Saying "I Love You" (poem)

Homer Spit

Rozz, Jesse, & a friend on Homer Spit, Homer, Alaska in 2003, some years after this poem was written.

Saying “I Love You”

Saturday I show him the video
of the trip you and I took after we
first met.  It was almost four years ago.

The tape starts with a pond along the highway
to Valdez.  There are swans, a beaver lodge,
but of you and I there are voices only.

He identifies them — “That’s you!”  “That’s Rozz!” —
but wants to see us, too.  I remember:
we hadn’t said it yet, we hadn’t touched.

Next day, there’s footage of you, a bare
couple seconds of you — “There she is!” — seated
in grass beside another pond, a near

walk from Squirrel Creek, our last night’s campsite.
The next shots were taken miles and hours away,
of Copper River as seen from the height

of the highest point on the Edgerton Highway,
then up close where, I tell him, you and I
went swimming.  He doesn’t have my memory —

he wasn’t there — for what transpired between standby
and record, between off and on — after
the glimpse of you at Squirrel Creek when I

shut down the camera.  The words were not taped
that we spoke there.  The camera didn’t witness
the first halting declarations, didn’t capture

the meeting of our hands between the car seats
as we drove the Edgerton to Copper River, where
(I do not tell him) we went skinnydipping.

That whole trip we drove from water to water,
from the Copper to Fielding Lake where glass-thin
ice tinkled downcreek past our camp; to Chena River

where mosquitoes like oil derricks examined
the shirt wrapped around your head as mosquito
netting; to Montana Creek in dark and rain,

where you made fiddlehead stew.  I fast forward through
the next morning’s endless footage — my camcorder eye
contemplating each shallow pure eddy whose slow

clarity disclosed the creek bottom lined
with pink and grey pebbles, and each turbulent
rapid with a raging surface defined

by white foam and roaring.  At the confluence
of waters, the running of creek into river,
from your separate walk you reappear in the lens —

“There she is!” — his excitement, just as I felt there,
in that moment.  Remember, love, those were the days
when we became love to one another —

and I remember, you first told me their names
in those sweet days of Bird Creek; of Captain Cook
State Park; of Anchor Point where we waded

the surf; of Homer Spit where two black dogs
swam the bay after balls the man threw.
Their names . . . the boy, his sister, their brother. . . .

A Kalifornsky Beach Road scenic overview:
he watches, with a child’s distaste and fascination,
our kiss.  He wasn’t there, he doesn’t know

that his sitting here beside me this Saturday
morning, he alone of the three, he owes
to that kiss, to those days in that landscape.

Oh, love.  Because I say it to you,
I must learn to say it to him, too.

[February 2, 1997]

About this poem

Took a rest today from thinking about the Anchorage equal rights ordinance & the politics of antigay hatred being directed at it from predictable quarters.  Mostly today I rested & read.  And then, at eight, went down to the train station to pick up Jesse, who decided yesterday to take the opportunity of a couple days off from the work he’d doing this summer at Denali National Park to make a visit home.

Home. Now, there’s a thought.  He’s not “my kid” by biological relationship, nor have we ever had a legal relationship.  And yet, home, & all because of love.

Here’s the deal.  This is a post, & a poem, about love: the love that I had (still have) for Jesse’s aunt Rozz (now Ptery), which led me into the relationship I have with him — bringing him into my family because of my love for her, learning to love him (it was quite a challenge, to begin with!) because of my love for her.

This is a post, & a poem, about politics. Because what it comes down to with issues like the Anchorage equal rights ordinance, or of marriage equality for same-sex couples, is that our love is run roughshod over by the political intrusions of hatred & intolerance.  Hatred & intolerance insists — or rather, the people who carry that hatred & intolerance, because it isn’t simply emotional but actual people who do this — these hate-filled & intolerant people insist that our lives & our loves have no worth, & take political action to prevent us from being accorded the same rights that they themselves take for granted.  (And then, true double-thinkers that they are, they even have the nerve to claim we’re asking for “special” rights.)

Terrence des Pres, writing about the political intrusions on private life, quotes Czeslaw Milosz:

The first movement is singing,
A free voice, filling mountains and valleys.
The first movement is joy,
But it is taken away.
[Ref. 1]

That’s their object: to take it away.  Let’s not let ’em.

Meantime: because of love, this boy, now grown into a young man under the care of two women who loved each other in spite of those political intrusions… now come home for a couple of days.  So there’s another reason for this post & poem: to celebrate.

I wrote this in 1997, shortly after he first came to live with us at age 9.

It’s in a rough terza rima with very slanty rhymes.


  1. From Czleslaw Milosz, “The Poor Poet,” quoted by Terrence Des Pres, Praises & Dispraises: Poetry and Politics, the 20th Century (New York: Penguin Books, 1989)
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