I will admit that the English language and I are not always on the best of terms. Too often I get angry at it for it’s inexactitude and complications and fucked-up spellings, jaded from the abuse it regularly weathers by unskilled writers, and thus, as an act of revenge, it abandons me at my hours of need.
If you think I’m down on the English language, that is nothing compared to how hard I can be on poetry. I am brutal. It can’t be weird, or I don’t like it. I can’t rhyme, or I don’t like it. It can’t be cliched, or I don’t like it. It has to have a good closing line, or I don’t like it.
Of course, my world changed a little when I discovered my favorite poem (“Nightclub” by Billy Collins). It changed a little more when discovered Neruda and e.e. cummings. But none of those poems have ever made me nearly cry, clutch my pillow to my chest, think about it all night, and in the morning want to print the whole thing out, make notes on the sides, and then paste it to my wall.
“You Are Jeff” somehow manages to mix motorcycling (which I am staunchly against in every form imaginable), religion (not a huge fan), and helplessly devoted, young love. It’s like reading every single poem I wished I could write in high school that I never did because I was so painfully aware of how stupid I’d sound in a few years. It’s like reading about all the wonders and joys of growing up and becomming an adult, but it reminds you of every time it sucks, too. It starts:
“There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advantage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in front will want to take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The sun shines down. It’s a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not choose sides yet.”
Isn’t that what you’re always told? Don’t choose sides yet. Don’t dedicate your life to something. Things change. You’ll change. Who knows what you’ll want in a few years? Don’t limit yourself. As a twenty-something, I hate hearing that. How am I supposed to progress if I don’t make a choice? Where am I supposed to go? Am I supposed to just stay in that place adults wish they could stay in, that place before they had to decide? And if I choose a way, am I going to regret forever not taking the other road? Which side do I want?
Well that’s easy, you want the side of the road that’s going to tear you apart and boil you down to only what’s really you. You want the road that you can love, the hard road. But how many people don’t take the hard road because there’s no promise it won’t spit you out torn up into a million pieces with nowhere to turn?
The rest of the poem goes through a million different things that could happen, that did happen, that could have happened. What if you got cancer? What if you fall in love? What if your heart gets broken? What if you’re bored with your life and going nowhere? What if you make the wrong choices? How will you know if you’ve made the right one? What are you going to leave behind? What if everything you choose is wrong? Will it even matter?
But in the end:
“You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy,and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you don’t even have a name for.”
And that’s what really matters.