I must love my enemies: I have made
so many of them. Whether I, drowning, flailed
rescuers, or, terrier-nervous, yapped.
defending God knows what from God knows whom,
or thought I was the jester, licensed to wound,
I drove you all away. I wanted room
to grow my crooked stem, so sprouted thorns.
or, as self-consuming candle, blindly burned
in guttering isolation, or vacuum-drained–
as a black hole does the sky–all warmth and light.
Emperor of sunny nursery play.
I took all as due, nor wondered how or why.
Pursuit of justice was a good excuse
to wear the jackboots of some public cause
and stab a friend for a stranger’s brief applause.
It simplified affection’s murky snarl
to make such clean incisions. I have hurled
babies and bathwater out for a better world.
But mostly I won your enmity with love
too fast too soon, my overwhelming wave
of self too bountiful, too gladly given.
To save yourselves from my self you were driven
if not to anger to politic escape.
I said I love you: you foresaw a rape.
You must have loved me, enemies, to have left.
dreading the waste and smother of my gift.
sensing my naked need to be received.
Hard love withholds indulgence: you withheld.
Such closeness both of us would soon have scalded.
You could avoid what could not be repelled.
Safer, of course, to love thus at a distance–
a dream of faces gone, but nearly kissed–
blending across the years without resistance.
yin lost in yang, and none knows when or how.
But there is safety even in my bower.
for I love you still–but do not need you now.
[Judson Jerome, born in 1927, grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. He taught at Antioch College from 1953-1973. His dozen books include volumes of poetry, books about poetry, a novel, a collection of verse plays, and works of social criticism, and hundreds of his poems, stories, essays, plays and articles have appeared in dozens of popular and literary magazines since 1955. Jerome wrote a monthly poetry column in Writer’s Digest, pointing out the frustrations of the market and the vanity of vanity publishing. “It was later that I remembered that self-publication is an ancient and honorable alternative. It won’t assure one of readers, but it at least scatters a few copies around for the ages to find.”]