but can’t or won’t through insistence or fear,habit or worse, and so, we draw the hearts we seeourselves loving with. And those we crave
writes Weston Cutter in the poem “We Are The Hearts We Draw,” from his chapbook Plus Or Minus (Greying Ghost Press, 2012). The speaker’s inability to draw a certain heart addresses, to some extent, the chapbook’s central concern: lamenting our unfulfilled wish to love better or stronger those around us.
But the melancholia that imbues these poems does not only stem from the speakers’ inability to love, but also from an inability to be loved. Take, for instance, the poem “Yours, Alaska.” Toward end of this direct address to the forty-ninth state, the speaker says:
so yoursalmon don’t love you enough to visit orreturn your call, so the languages withall those words for snow are dying insideyour grip
While Alaska has many “languages” and “all those words” with which to express itself, the state fails to attract the beloved, who never visits or returns calls. The terms of endearment are left “dying inside” the mouth; or, in the poet’s case, upon the page.
In some instances, the inability to love, or the beloved’s reluctance to reciprocate, appears to be a matter of inexperience. In “Exposure to Various Flow,” the collective voice says:
The difference was that none of us on those boats’s edgeshad taken our loves up to the top floor of any of those skyscraperswhose reflections we floated past + boated through—the difference was the captains had,did, and while we’d talk kissing and bases the older menwould laugh at us and, arms across their chests, kindly not tell uswhat we didn’t know.
The youthful speakers talk rather innocently of “kissing and bases,” missing, it would seem, a fuller expression of love in the “top floor of any of those skyscrapers” above them. The older gentlemen eavesdropping on their conversation won’t tell their junior counterparts “what [they] didn’t know” under the assumption, one would think, that they’ll learn first-hand (eventually) through experience.
During other moments in Plus Or Minus, though, lovers are kept apart for nefarious or malicious reasons. The chapbook’s opening poem, “Casabianca,” narrates one such instance:
Love’s a manwatching his favorite bridgecatch fire, gustfor gust’s sake, wind becausewhat else is there,fire grows with elemental breathand if only love’sburning boy could look back,see the manat the burning bridge’s edge,say: love is windfeeding fire, or love’s fire, orlove is opening+ closing some pain.
But “love’s / burning boy” cannot look back and “see the man / at the burning bridge’s edge” proclaiming this fire to be a metaphor for passion, of “wind / feeding fire.” No, when he looks back all he sees is “an old arsonist friend walk away” on the “bridge’s far side,” wave to him, then head “for the stranded / man’s home.” We can only presume the arsonist will either burn the man’s house down, or steal the lover within it. Either way, the stranded man will lose his love to death or someone else. The metaphor of love-as-fire transforms into a new metaphor of fire-as-impediment to the beloved.
And so, given the seemingly insurmountable odds of attaining love, Plus Or Minus concludes with the poem “Virginia is for Lovers,” in which the speaker asks of the Union’s tenth state:
where’s your responsibility to uslovers, Virginia, those of us who came to and in and onand for you, looking for something to feast on or fill up withor be emptied by, for, because of, etcetera
Far from an encouraging response, though, the collection’s final line answers this inquiry with the line: “just like you I’ve never let anyone leave satisfied.” So we wander through this the country searching for love, but lacking the language, knowledge, and feeling to satisfy ourselves or our lovers.