• Steph Shuff

poems for past selves

How could we have known that our last kiss

might be our last kiss?

We sat there in the airport lounge

in fake leather chairs,

waiting for flights to carry us back to different, harsher realities.

Our love got caught in the crossfires of fate.

If I had only known.

What a heartbreaking phrase that is:

If I had only known.


If I had known our last kiss

would be our last kiss,

I would have asked you to slip me a little tongue, just the way I did.

You laughed at me, but I didn't care.

Can I even wet my own lips

without the sweetness of your tongue between them?

Perhaps the time has come, now, for me to try.


If I had known this would be our last trip together,

I would have taken baths with you every night

just the way we did.

I would have kissed the soft skin on the inside of your neck,

just the way I kissed you.

I love those parts of you,

the parts that smell more like you than

any of the other places on your body.


I would have watched you dance in the hotel room,

just the way I watched you.

I smiled up at you from the bed

as Talking Heads blared from your phone.

Their funky eighties beats rose up from your feet

and through your body

like an electric current.

If I had known, I would have smiled and thought,

"I want to remember him this way forever."

And I did. And I will.

From now on, I will play Talking Heads

and think of you that way,

happy and dancing and dripping in my love.


If I had known my life would come

toppling down

around me

the way it did a few hours later,

I wouldn't have changed a thing about that trip,

or any other.

I would have done it all the same.


This is the kind of love you have taught me -

a love that is present,

and perfect.

It is a love that is made in moments,

and lived as if they might be our last.

And it is all because of you.


Our love is so different from all the love I knew before.

It respects the past as a patient lesson,

awaits the future with a distant curiosity.

It worships the present

like a god

because this moment is all we will ever have.

This one.

Right now.

I have worshipped every moment that ever included you.


I can't really put into words all the things your love has taught me -

patience, trust, respect -

things I had forgotten somewhere along the way these past 30 years,

or maybe never really learned.

Above all

loving you has taught me to love myself,

and this is a gift that I could never possibly repay.


All the power

and all the love

and all the passion

that was taken from me by others,

you have returned to me.

Because of you, I am no longer afraid

and the fog has lifted

from all the worlds I am meant to create.

Because of you, I have the strength to create them,

even when this world is

falling down

around me.


The most romantic love stories have harsh truths,

isn't that what makes them great?

The tension?

The tension between us is that you are not mine,

I am not yours.

No one can possess us.

We are unknowable.

We knew this,

about ourselves

and each other.

We loved anyway.

That is the thing that inspires me the most -

that love can grow out of so many impossibilities

like a flower blooming from a crack in the pavement.


I love you.

I love all of you.

Do you know this about me?

If you didn't before,

now you do.


But.

In poetry

as in love

real tragedy comes to us

in the conjunctions.


I have worlds inside this head of mine

that I must start building,

and you have worlds you have constructed,

to which you must return.


This fantasy world

we have built together

has been a lovely one,

hasn't it?

As exciting and dangerous as a revolution,

serene like a southern square

hot like the tropics,

soulful like a Motown record,

wild like the midwestern plains,

alive like New York City.


Stories help us make sense of our own lives.

I wonder, when it is all over,

whose story will I compare our love to?


My hope is this:

that instead of remembering our love

through the stories that have already been told,

we can write stories of our own,

ones that people will remember

long after we are dead,

when our ashes are scattered and

gone with the wind.


I want only one thing in this world:

to be remembered.

Not because I was great,

but because I reminded the world of its greatness,

the way you have reminded me of mine.

My muse.

I have fantasies that

years from now,

people will tell tales of the love we shared.

I want to sit next to you inside museums for eternity,

our lives and our art and our stories intertwined

like the Spanish moss that drips

from live oak trees in the shaded squares of Savannah.

Would one be so beautiful without the other?


The older I get,

the more uncertain about things I become.

I realize now that

uncertainty is the mark of a full life,

well-lived.

But if I know one thing, it is that I love you,

with all my heart

and all my soul

and all my body.

All the love I feel from now into the future will be because

you taught me how to feel it.

Any lovers that I may have in the future

will owe the well-worn grooves

of my love

to you.


I don't know what the future holds for us,

but I am yours forever,

even though this moment is our last.

My future selves will search for you in different bodies

and when they find you,

I will be home. I don't have anything to offer you.

Certainty, safety, and security

are not mine to give you.

All I have are these words,

a few untold stories,

and the desire to share them

first

with you.


Our story ends today,

but not really.

I hold the memory of you like a warm cup of coffee in my hands.

The feeling in my fingertips alone

is enough to inspire me to greatness.

I will devote my life to telling stories of a love like ours,

inspiring the world to love like we have loved.

What else is there to live for?

Pain punctuates life

like a staccato,

and you have been my poetry

in the in-between.

I will build monuments to you in this world, my love.

They will all face north,

waiting for the day in which you might

turn south

for me

again.

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