The Trouble with Loving Poets by Elizabeth Zaleski

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neck of guitar with pick under strings

The trouble with loving poets is that they leave a long paper trail. They want you to read it, too. So back you go, stepping lightly, trying not to stumble over fragments of old lovers lying about in line after line. Thighs there, a mouth there, and wow, whose tits are those? They sure don’t look like yours.

A lot of musicians are just poets who carry guitars, because guitars are like special shields that protect you from violence when you want to speak poetically in public. I dated a man named Allen once who walked around with a guitar slung over his shoulder like a submachine gun. He was always pointing it at me and breaking into songs about his old girlfriends. I’d blush and not know where to put my eyes, the guitar on his lap between us having grown obscene.

Tottering about his house, I was like an uncouth child in a museum of the heart’s artifacts: pottery, paintings, embroidered pillows. In everything he owned lingered the traces of other women. Sometimes I got hungry and wanted Cheerios.

“Not that bowl!” Allen would cry, snatching the dish out of my hands and clutching it to his chest. “It’s from Almina, and she’s very, very special.”

Allen was right to be suspicious. I was wary of the ghosts who haunted that house, who floated around in my brain with their delicate bones and uncanny talents: girls with genius grants, polyglots with exotic accents, virgins, he said, with vaginas like nasal passages.

Probably that blue-black bowl would’ve slipped right out of my hands. In those days, I was clumsy with love.


Elizabeth ZaleskiElizabeth Zaleski works as an editor at The University of Nebraska Press in Lincoln. She switched career paths when six years of teaching college composition, literature, creative writing, and linguistics yielded not a single chili pepper on


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