Craving a hug? Today’s poem by Tess Gallagher is almost as good as the real thing. It’s a little longer than previous poems I’ve shared, so try reading it when you can take your time. Like a good hug, it shouldn’t be rushed.
A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too,
with our arms around each other. The poem
is being read and listened to out here
in the open. Behind us
no one is entering or leaving the houses.
Suddenly a hug comes over me and I’m
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then
subsiding. I finish but keep on holding
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he
would have. He looks homeless because of how
he needs. ‘Can I have one of those?’ he asks you,
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised,
surprised you don’t tell him how
it is – that I’m yours, only
yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to
its face. Love – that’s what we’re talking about,
love that nabs you with ‘for me
only’ and holds on.
So I walk over to him and put my
arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on
so thick I can’t feel
him past it. I’m starting the hug
and thinking, ‘How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?’ Already
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my
shoulders, my hands not
meeting behind his back, he is so big!
I put my head into his chest and snuggle
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes
into him. He stands for it. This is his
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly,
we stop having arms and I don’t know if
my lover has walked away or what, or
if the woman is still reading the poem, or the houses –
what about them? – the houses.
Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
But when you hug someone you want it
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button
on his coat will leave the imprint of
a planet in my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.
— Tess Gallagher
I love the phrase “masterpiece of connection” to describe a hug. What lines or images strike you?
Is there someone you’re wishing you could hug during these days of distancing? Consider sending them this poem using the links below.
“The Hug” by Tess Gallagher in Staying Alive: real poems for unreal times, edited by Neil Astley, 2011. Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.