Poem of the Week | February 10, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “To All The Ghosts I’ve Loved Before: A Palinode in 15 Unsent Valentines” by George Abraham!

George Abraham is a Palestinian American poet from Jacksonville, Florida. They are the author of Birthright (Button Poetry, 2020), and the chapbooks: the specimen’s apology (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019) and al youm (TAR, 2017). He is a Kundiman and Watering Hole fellow, and recipient of the College Union Poetry Slam International’s Best Poet title. Their work has been published with The Paris Review, The American Poetry Review, LitHub, Poem-A-Day, and Bettering American Poetry. He is currently based in Massachusetts, where he is a PhD candidate in Bioengineering at Harvard University. You can find them on twitter @IntifadaBatata or at gabrahampoet.com.


To All the Ghosts I’ve Loved Before

A Palinode in 15 Unsent Valentines
My heart is driving through a field in Maine. Her opening
scene is yellowed with grief, & this is the first time
she thinks of you all week. Most of america is dead
landscape, & here, when she must confront this emptying,
vulnerable planet, she wonders how Jupiter can exist without
a surface – as sphere compacted in gas bound only by the gravity
of a dense molten core – how somewhere in the universe, stability
exists in the midst of soundless fire without land to ground it –

Loneliness Is a high school gym floor: scene where we’re both single
at homecoming, & I lean into you; say, maybe we can find boys to dance with
You laugh with and not at me. In truth, I just want to be held –

Killing it, you say; your hand grazing my velvet top –
scene where all the straight boys can’t keep their hands off
me – scene where I am vast and un-controllable, held
by everyone and no one in that blue – I am never
last to leave           any party.

Me, I Must be kidding myself? Scene where a girl, whose name
I can’t remember, crowns you in plastic on a football field, kisses
your cheek; whereas you’re the only one I’d go to that field
for – scene where I’m crying while that All-American
Rejects album (you know the one) blares the whole drive back,
& the mascara practically writes itself down my face –

Confess(ion): I’m starting to think I have an attraction to
impossibility – tonight, the sky is a punched-out molar,
& here I imagine a desire vast enough to bleed & float for –
when you text me i love you, i drift to sleep & leave you on seen

I Still the blades in every dreamscape that night:
still life in empty field commemorating the absence of fire –
still life with dandelions, mid-eruption, parading nowhere –
still life with lone daffodil slow-dancing with the space
around it – observe its antiphysic: say, instead, every
motion was shaped & guided not by limb but the air
around it – what is gravity if not the loneliest ancestor
rejecting the very notion of sky?

Believe               (me when I say a poem can
be unforgiveable. Watch as I break
the poem, unforgiveable. Every line
a breakage and, by construction, unforgiveable)
Still; Believe     (me, I can redact the air
by my unforgiving. I have never left
a poem anything but unforgiven.)

When I’m Not With You I               Lose               nothing – & those truths
scare me sometimes. You                                   married a nice girl
beneath a dead & autumned tree               to prove a point.
To whom, I wonder. I do not ask               how she fissured
your heart into twin countries.               I’m trying to be
happy for you. I’m trying               to be happy for.

My Mind isn’t always this generous. By this time
next year, I’ll have spent more time on earth loving you than not
knowing of your existence –

Give Me something? A memory, like Adele asked for?
Let me be a selfish for a minute; I need to
construct a chest to fold into & define love in
the collapse of me, & sure, that is not unlike memory:
to want not you but a needing of –
Forgive me. I’m not asking for forgiveness.

A Sign of healing: the last time a white boy begged for me, cornfields
swallowed the horizon, aside from the line the highway makes
when it waltzes into the sun in crooked rhythm – I brought myself
to climax, walked into his room, & burst before he even opened
his mouth. I was Hot because I was         untouchable, for once: scene
where I conquered impossibility –         became it –
showed him none of me was intended         for him –         & his –

Hit Me / like the brakes / you never wanted / to press down /
that / bend at that / speed polevault me / into a lackluster / lover
exhaust / me into serenade & / surrender / disrespect me / like
a run-on /sentence what’s the point / of want / if it isn’t / full
-throttle beg / for me & I’ll call you / air I want you / to breathe / me.

Baby, One word for you that never felt comfortable
In my mouth, despite the synonyms for you: babe, bb, be
-eb,habib– baby
is a boring I cannot afford. Give me
a queer love so mundane it doesn’t have to kill me –

More the flocking of sparrows, less the drifting of –

You ever look into a man & see a wilderness? You ever
look into a wilderness & see fire? Soot & eyeline. This
& every ecosystem could exist as fine without us:

see the dandelions shedding tiny countries adrift
nowhere? See the daffodils, wide-mouthed,
unbecoming, that       & everywhere?

Time as a final locus of and against control:
time as not-space, as elegy’s sprawling: admit it –
we all need a framework of anti-mirror:

I have never looked into a love song & seen myself.
Every poem I enter leaves me seen & anything
but. Listen: I am trying to tell you a story about distance.


Author’s Note

After a series of heartbreaks, I found myself turning to poetry and, to my surprise, found no solace in poems for the first time in my life. Naturally, being unable to find the poems I needed in that moment, I then tried to investigate and unpack this void I was experiencing by channeling it into my own poetry, but this only lead to a different kind of heartbreak. In truth, it was watching Netflix’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before with my roommates, and listening to Britney Spears alone on repeat, which got me through this particular rough patch, and hence, this poem is a tribute to both Han and Spears, in both title and form. I came to see that the poem I needed was not a poem about love or heartbreak, no – what I needed was a poem about vengeance, obsession even. I was apprehensive at first, but ultimately curious to experiment with the palinode’s capability in writing revenge, contrary to the form’s origin as an apology to a higher power. How could I weaponize that which I was never able to fully articulate, dare I say, find my own divinity in it? I needed to lean into my own narrative’s mess and contradiction. I needed to find the Poem in that mess.