Modern Love

The rain streams past the gutters, overflowing a drain clogged with leaves. From inside the sound is cool and precise, and though the door lies open and the light spills out, the kitchen keeps its warmth.

The refrigerator hums, the girl works on beneath the pools of light, and the man outside her window sees her pull on a cigarette; his eyes follow the orange-bright tip; he flicks water from his eyes and wonders what to do next, how to proceed, whether to use the knife or his hands to open the latched, screen door. He has never been so wet.

She studies the list on the table, decorum of crossed-out items — the few that remain.

The rain slows, and the last crickets begin a feeble song from the pond next door.

So far away, each thinks. He watches her mouth open in concentration. He must make her hear him as he meant to be heard:

what they have done has not been wrong.

His hands know their way past the buttons of her dress. She lifts her eyes to the window and catches sight of her own likeness in the glass. She can never stop herself: smiling at the ghost reflection before her. He believes she is looking at him.

Says Townsend, " 'Modern Love' is concerned with exploring love as an obsession. On the one hand the man in the poem wants the woman so badly he is willing to do violence to get her; the woman is concerned with the way the glass of the window reflects her and so never sees who waits for her outside the glass. I want the poem to be a little frightening, to show how easily what seems like love can turn dangerous. When I was writing 'Modern Love,' " she recalls, "I drew from a sense of danger, something that probably many women feel, about who might be waiting outside, whether lover or stranger."

Not only does Townsend take a risk in the poem, she also adjusts her voice to enhance the tension of the situation. Her descriptive, ominous tones are controlled throughout the work, adding suspense to the theme of obsession. Even if we have never experienced such an encounter, we will read her poem because at its heart is some important truth about the consequences of obsession, or "modern love."

Let's close our discussion about love poetry with a preview of contemporary examples in the mini anthology:

• In "Speaking of Love," Dana Gioia does just that — discusses the importance of words and the truths they evoke universally in all of us.

• In "One Dream," another poem by Ann Townsend, Townsend focuses on her lover as he sleeps next to her in bed. "It's a moment of stillness, a time when one lover steps back and looks at the other, knowing that some kinds of intimacy are not possible," she says.

"I don't think the poem thinks that's a bad thing, though, because the speaker can imagine all sorts of wonderful possibilities for the dreams the lover might be having. I think the poem finds a virtue in the solitude we keep at our center, even as the speaker wonders at her lover's thoughts and dreams."

• In "Sentimental: An Epithalamium," dedicated to Ann Townsend by her husband David Baker, Baker mixes nature and love imagery into a symphony of emotion celebrating their relationship.

Mini Anthology of Love Poems

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