This is one of my favorite poems. I read it every time I worry I've become the volatile couple... Which is pretty easy to do during the holidays, as I balance my desires/needs with his and hers and ours and theirs.
When a Woman Loves a Man
David Lehman, 1948
When she says margarita she means daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again," she means, "Put your arms around me from behind
as I stand disconsolate at the window."
He's supposed to know that.
When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia
or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,
or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park
is raking leaves in Ithaca
or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing
at the window overlooking the bay
where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on
while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
When a woman loves a man it is one ten in the morning
she is asleep
he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels
and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed where she remains asleep and very warm.
When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, "We're talking about me now,"
he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,
"Did somebody die?"
When a woman loves a man, they have gone
to swim naked in the stream
on a glorious July day
with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle
of water rushing over smooth rocks,
and there is nothing alien in the universe.
Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat?
When he says, "Ours is a transitional era,"
"that's very original of you," she replies,
dry as the martini he is sipping.
They fight all the time
What do I owe you?
Let's start with an apology
Ok, I'm sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying "Laughter."
It's a silent picture.
"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says,
"and you can quote me on that,"
which sounds great in an English accent.
One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it another nine times.
When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the airport in a foreign country with a jeep.
When a man loves a woman he's there. He doesn't complain
she's two hours late
and there's nothing in the refrigerator.
When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.
She's like a child crying
at nightfall because she didn't want the day to end.
When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking:
as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.
A thousand fireflies wink at him.
The frogs sound like the string section
of the orchestra warming up.
The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.