By Lizzy Young
In the next installment of our Valentine’s Poet series, where a spring pub poet shares a love poem that inspired them and a love poem they wrote, we are featuring Douglas Manuel!
Douglas Manuel was born in Anderson, Indiana and now resides in Long Beach, California. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University, an MFA in poetry from Butler University, and a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. His first collection of poems, Testify, won an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for poetry, and his poems and essays can be found in numerous literary journals, magazines, and websites, most recently Zyzzyva, Pleiades, and the New Orleans Review. He has traveled to Egypt and Eritrea with The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program to teach poetry. A recipient of the Dana Gioia Poetry Award and a fellowship from the Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts, he is a Bayard Rustin Fellow at Whittier College and teaches at Spalding University’s low-res MFA program.
Douglas’s current favorite love poem is “Untitled” by Rachel McKibbens.
by Rachel McKibbens
To my daughters I need to say:
Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you
despite its broken neck. Whose body bursts
sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle
the way old grief is gentle.
Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth
saddles the naked salt of your far gone hips,
whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.
Go with the one who cries out for her tragic sisters
as she chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.
Go with the one who resembles most your father.
Not the father you can point out on a map,
but the father who is here, is your home,
is the key to your front door.
Know that your first love will only be the first.
And the second and third and even fourth
will unprepare you for the most important:
The Blessed. The Beast. The Last Love,
which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us?
Can reveal to us our true heart’s end and its thirty years
spent in poverty? Can mimic the sound of our bird-throated mothers,
replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers?
Can pull us out of ourselves until we are no longer sisters
or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
women who give and lead and take and want
and want and want and want,
because there is no shame in wanting.
And you will hear yourself say:
Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you
new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children
out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love.
Or you will say:
Last Love, I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless,
have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men,
so I hurl myself at the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.
Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you,
let the day I was born mean my life will end
where you end. Let the man behind the church
do what he did if it brings me to you. Let the girls
in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves
if it brings me to you. Let me pronounce my hoarded joy
if it brings me to you. Let my father break me again
and again if it brings me to you.
Last love, I have let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I once vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room
and come out empty. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.
Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.
I am all that is left.
The love poem Douglas wrote tropes off of McKibbens’ poem. He titled it: “Untitled: after Rachel McKibbens.”
after Rachel McKibbens
by Douglas Manuel
To my son I need to say:
Go with the one who loves you mathematically,
the one whose variables balance yours,
the one whose asymptote forever approaches your curve
but never reaches it, bypasses it, combines with it,
or overrides it, but instead walks right beside it,
its own curve, its own body, its own path, its own
protagonist that just happens to be
walking next to you, loving you, even though you
don’t deserve it. None of us do. Remember this,
love not the one who divides you clean
without a remainder, but the one who knows
every digit of your repeating decimal, the one
who will recite it ad infinitum without
boredom and accepts your perpetual sins,
how you always make the same mistake
again and again.
Go with the one whose proofs define,
redefine, and refine your love as time grinds
your mind’s right angles and snatches
youth from the flesh. Yes, go
with the one who most resembles your mother
and her father, their left-sided brains Pythagorasing
triangled mountains instead of being locked
in the reverie of the view, their thoughts searching
for patterns scattered and strewn on the horizon.
Know that your first love isn’t really,
doesn’t have to be, most likely won’t be
your last. Know that love is practice
and sometimes it’s a good idea
to take a fast. A clear palate savors best
what’s next. Know that every love gets you
closer to last love:
Prime love. Perfect love. Natural love,
which all are, of course, lies, metaphors,
representations, but real. One isn’t seven
only because we say so but that doesn’t make it
less real, that doesn’t make you feel less,
expect less, need less. So embrace and love
the excess, the hot breath of yes, the wet sweat
of sex, the thawing smile of forgiveness
after an argument.
And never forget to say sorry and to admit
all the ways you’re barely more than zero,
another fiction: everything is something, even
nothing. Call this love,
summation love, terminal love, totaled love,
combined love, increased love, multiplied love,
shared love, product love, addended love,
coordinated love, equated love, obtuse love,
congruent love, equilateral love, intersected love,
paralleled love, right angled love. No, call
this love without the language of math.
Call it last love and open your eyes wide
so you don’t miss a single disappearing digit.
If you like the poem Douglas wrote, then you should check out Trouble Funk, his forthcoming poetry collection.
The speaker of Testify returns to divulge his parents’ love story. Set in Anderson, Indiana in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Trouble Funk exposes ways Black Love is thwarted but never destroyed by racism, classism, and sexism. Eschewing the “lyrical I” in favor of a third person omniscient point of view, this text exhibits how the latter half of the twentieth century rhymes with our current moment when it comes to political division, the hardships that Black folks face, and the rise of toxic right-wing policies. In many ways, Trouble Funk serves as a prequel to Testify in which Douglas Manuel seeks to better understand and love himself, his family, and his country.
Preorder a copy of his collection at this link.
We loved reading the two “Untitled” love poems today, and we hope you enjoyed them too! Thanks to all of the wonderful poets who contributed to this Valentine's series!