What Love Is

Issue 12 | Summer 2024 |

 

 

                          Can’t define it? Who can. Love gets mixed up with
             everything else: sex, money, social status, friends
                          and relatives, what church you go to, which teams
you cheer for. Let’s try this: think of the things you love
                          that aren’t people. My neighbor was
             in Berlin years ago, and he says some older German businessmen

                          were singing in a hotel lobby, and after they sang
             German songs, they switched to Russian, so of course
                          he asks himself how it is that the German men
would know Russian songs, and that’s when
                          he realizes that they had been POWs
             in a Russian camp: they hated the enemy, but they loved his songs.

                          What this means is that you can love music
             without all the tomfoolery that is part and parcel
                          of loving Sherman, say, or Beth. Or Annie Mary
or Jerome or whoever is driving you crazy with their love
                          or is being driven crazy by yours.
             The problems start when your love for someone else becomes warped,

                          wrested, contorted, distorted, perverted, deformed,
             and bent out of shape. That just saddens and confuses
                          everybody and makes them want to stab and shoot
one another. Howard, my barber, is an ex-cop,
                          and Howard says that when a woman
             is killed, the husband goes on the list of suspects, and when

                          the husband is a doctor, he goes to the top of the list.
             Besides making people murderous, good love
                          gone bad also adds to the considerable number
of souls already turning slowly on a spit in Purgatory:
                          in his poem by that name, Dante
             tells us that all sins arise from love, either perverted love

                          of the kind described earlier or deficient love
             or excessive love. And it’s worse when the gods
                          get involved: when Apollo insults Cupid,
the little fellow gets even by shooting an arrow
                          that sparks love in Apollo’s heart
             and another arrow that sparks repulsion in Daphne’s.

                          You can imagine what happens next. Yet what is love
             without at least the prospect of pain, infelicity,
                          misery, tribulation, wretchedness, desolation, despair?
Whenever the conversation turns to books, the single most
                          common statement you hear is, “Yeah, but
             I didn’t like the ending,” which usually means someone got done

                          wrong, done dirty, had their heart broken,
             bank account emptied, and prospects for happiness
                          ruined, probably forever. And then the stupid
book ends. Aristotle said catharsis is cleansing,
                          but sometimes it feels like
             an ass-whipping. Going into a tragedy with eyes wide open,

                          still we cling to our to hopes, even though
             we know that each flagstone before us is part of a path
                          that leads to a sorrow that we’ll hate and hate and then
grow used to and finally come to cherish, though we’re not quite sure why.
                          As Apollo tries to embrace Daphne,
             she transforms into a laurel tree, her fingers becoming branches,

                          her toes roots, and her hair leaves. Such leaves!
             In Bernini’s statue of the lovers, the leaves are marble,
                          but they’re so thin and delicate that they’re
almost transparent, and when the statue is moved, the leaves ring
                          like little bells, like the sound wine glasses
             make when two lovers toast and each thinks, I’m leaving you.