For the past year of so, I have been playing with a certain notion. I had almost forgotten about it until I had read the following passage from Streetwise, the second part in Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography. Streetwise is, by the way, horribly translated from Arabic to English in the edition I am reading, not that I am one to judge — I can only count from wahid to tissa wa tissaoune.
Café Central: 25.9.1961
The woman that I choose to live with for life will only be the right woman for me if she can keep me from going with other women. She must be all women to me. No other woman will have what she has. I’ll be able to pick her out in dark. When the candles go out, each of us will light the other. Even if they cover us with a veil of darkness, I shall see her and she will see me. I have still not found the ideal woman, for she will be a woman of extraordinary light, a woman of transparency.
Poets like to talk and write about love, but if my suspensions are correct, they actually fail miserably or, at best, are incredibly limited in their ability to love. When it comes to love, they are a superficial, shallow lot.
Am I the only one who is tired of hearing the poets whine? Unrequited love, broken hearts, “you’re the only one for me”, “I will never love again” . . . all of it is just so weak. It’s like listening to someone who has just suffered a minor physical injury and complains about it non stop. Or like someone who lost their job and cries that they will never find another one. Well, if the guy was such a good worker, then wouldn’t someone else hire him? And that’s my point.
If the poets are so obsessed with love (and actually Choukri is not, at least at this point in his story), then how come they can’t love? How come they are only capable of loving just that one special person? And why are they always so pathologically jealous? As a matter of fact, most people think that they are really full of love, but very few actually are. If they were, they could love anybody. I would like to see a poet go out tomorrow and say, “I am going to fall in love for the rest of my life with the next person I meet.” Now that would be someone with a great capacity to love. But to think that we can only love one particular person and that that person has to fulfill a series of strict criteria actually does nothing more than reveal our incredibly limited prowess to love.
Billie Holiday didn’t want an explanation, she just loved. In terms of poets, only Shakespeare seems to really pass the love-capacity test in his Sonnet 130:
My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lip’s red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,
If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
In some perfumes there is more delight
Than the breath with which my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
Music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Of course, I am also probably weak hearted and set some pretty unrealistic expectations myself. I suppose it is our egoism, like that of the poets, that makes us all so limited. We want to think of ourselves as incredibly unique and special, and therefore, if we allow ourselves to love just about anybody, then maybe the one we end up loving will have loved us just as they could have loved just about anybody else.
At the end of the day, I think it all works itself out. Desperation eventually turns most people to relationships, and that perpetuates the human species. But, what I can’t stand is how the poets hold up their false, superficial, and egocentric love on a pedestal and call it praiseworthy. Let’s see a poet fall in love with someone toothless who stinks of babouch, and then I will be impressed.
Give me the blue collar lovers any day. Those soldiers who go out into the trenches and love what they can find. And if they are lucky and live in a country with liberal divorce laws, they just may find true love over and over again and get married four or fives times in a lifetime.