I always knew I loved the sky,
the way it seems solid and insubstantial at the same time;
the way it disappears above us
even as we pursue it in a climbing plane,
like wishes or answers to certain questions—always out of reach;
the way it embodies blue,
even when it is gray.
But I didn't know I loved the clouds,
those shaggy eyebrows glowering
over the face of the sun.
Perhaps I only love the strange shapes clouds can take,
as if they are sketches by an artist
who keeps changing her mind.
Perhaps I love their deceptive softness,
like a bosom I'd like to rest my head against
but never can.
And I know I love the grass, even as I am cutting it as short
as the hair on my grandson's newly barbered head.
I love the way the smell of grass can fill my nostrils
with intimations of youth and lust;
the way it stains my handkerchief with meanings
that never wash out.
Sometimes I love the rain, staccato on the roof,
and always the snow when I am inside looking out
at the blurring around the edges of parked cars
and trees. And I love trees,
in winter when their austere shapes
are like the cutout silhouettes artists sell at fairs
and in May when their branches
are fuzzy with growth, the leaves poking out
like new green horns on a young deer.
But how about the sound of trains,
those drawn-out whistles of longing in the night,
like coyotes made of steam and steel, no color at all,
reminding me of prisoners on chain gangs I've only seen
in movies, defeated men hammering spikes into rails,
the burly guards watching over them?
Those whistles give loneliness and departure a voice.
It is the kind of loneliness I can take in my arms, tasting
of tears that comfort even as they burn, dampening the pillows
and all the feathers of all the geese who were plucked to fill
Perhaps I embrace the music of departure—song without lyrics,
so I can learn to love it, though I don't love it now.
For at the end of the story, when sky and clouds and grass,
and even you my love of so many years,
have almost disappeared,
it will be all there is left to love.
"Things I Didn't Know I Loved: After Nazim Hikmet" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country: Poems. © W. W. Norton, 2006.
Read Nazim Hikmet's "Things I Didn't Know I Loved" here.
Art credit: "LMS The Flying Scotsman, Night Train to Scotland," giclée print by Norman Wilkinson (originally color; found under various titles online).