1.
My dear friend, you who are here right now reading this, carving a tiny pocket of time for yourself, a small space where you and I and this poem will reside for a moment: I am hugging you.

2.
My dear friend, it has been such a tremendously terrible year. I know it. You know it. And yet here we are. We are reading poetry and we are discovering that we still have a little bit more to give. That life, somehow, refuses to give up, so why should we?

3.
My dear friend, I am holding you and your pain, as you are holding mine. I promise that this place will always be here to embrace you. I am here to enfold you in my arms and let my love reach the corners where your hurts reside. You are not alone.

4.
My dear friend, if it is at all possible to love you, I do.

5.
My dear friend: it is midnight, and it is now Christmas on my side of the world. I am hugging you.

The Hug
Tess Gallagher

A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too.
with our arms around each other.

Suddenly a hug comes over me and I’m
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then
subsiding. I finish but keep on holding
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he
would have. He looks homeless because of how
he needs. “Can I have one of those?” he asks you,
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised,
surprised you don’t tell him how
it is – that I’m yours, only
yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to
its face. Love – that’s what we’re talking about, love
that nabs you with “for me
only” and holds on.

So I walk over to him and put my
arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on
so thick I can’t feel
him past it. I’m starting the hug
and thinking, “How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my
shoulders, my hands not
meeting behind his back, he is so big!

I put my head into his chest and snuggle
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes
into him. He stands for it. This is his
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly
we stop having arms and I don’t know if
my lover has walked away or what, or
whether the woman is still reading the poem…

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
But when you hug someone you want it
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button
on his coat will leave the imprint of
a planet in my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.

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Midnight. I needed time to think. The past few days haven’t been exactly kind to my heart. I saw you again — by chance, which meant, what are the odds. Which meant, our worlds have ceased to overlap. Which meant, I am only allowed this distance from now on. Which meant: I have to move on.

Conversation with a Fireman from Brooklyn
Tess Gallagher

He offers, between planes,
to buy me a drink. I’ve never talked
to a fireman before, not one from Brooklyn
anyway. Okay. Fine, I say. Somehow
the subject is bound to come up, women
firefighters, and since I’m
a woman and he’s a fireman, between
the two of us, we know something
about this subject. Already
he’s telling me he doesn’t mind
women firefighters, but what
they look like
after fighting a fire, well
they lose all respect. He’s sorry, but
he looks at them
covered with the cinders of someone’s
lost hope, and he feels disgust, he just
wants to turn the hose on them, they
are that sweaty and stinking, just like
him, of course, but not the woman he
wants, you get me? And to come to that—
isn’t it too bad, to be despised
for what you do to prove yourself
among men
who want to love you, to love you,
love you.

There are letters I have to write. There are letters I want to receive. Wasn’t it Svetlana Alliluyeva who said, “The one good thing about not seeing you is that I can write you letters”?

Unanswered Letter
Tess Gallagher

Your silence is leaning toward judgment.
Yesterday I bragged, writing to calm
my paranoid friend, that I never assume
the worst when my pals don’t write. Now
assuming the worst, I think what I must have
done, or not done. Surely some recognition
will brand the door of my house, or
rich attention flutter down.

How natural, in silence, to credit delay
with intention, like the word oar
insisting on water. The need also to
advise the self around exaggeration,
i.e., “nobody loves me,” because nothing is
coming back, and, next to nothing, not
to act like a transistor radio left on into
the night, voices singing like an ear
baffled by the rain, or someone refused
because they think so.

Those others you loved elsewhere, you miss
what they haven’t said. They belong
to some permission to go on as more
than yourself, a clarity that adds you back
to all you cast off, as when
you want to be the good light of a lamp
scanning the firmament, or rain- its pleasure
with an open boat.

So what is unanswered keeps you coming back
to yourself, telling you what you wanted
only when it didn’t come, having now
to make up this difference.
Even moments you think empty, the world
doesn’t stop speaking – the windshield
blurred suddenly by a sighting of gravestones,
before you are driven
through the underpass.

Tess Gallagher is Raymond Carver’s wife. I think she wrote this after he died. More of the discussion (well, notes, really) here. It is raining again. Michael Whalen’s I Have Loved You for a Thousand Lifetimes is on repeat.

I Stop Writing the Poem
Tess Gallagher

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.