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Free Verse: Kay Didden

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Some words and names are unsayable, or at least rarely said, because they are powerful. This poem hinges on such a word uttered on rare occasions, and the fact that it is used so rarely gives it all the more power, especially if the word is returned. 

Katy Didden

On Love: a Debate with Three Finns

They taught me to speak with the middle third

of my lips, as if I’d sucked a lemon, or as if my mouth

were frozen slightly open. After “Good morning,”

“Nice to meet you,” and “Where is the sauna?” 

I asked them how to say “I love you.” At this,

they murmured to each other. Then Satu,

the most outspoken of the three

who often said things that were slightly shocking,  

said she didn’t know how to translate love exactly.

In English, she said, you use the word too lightly. 

You say “I love you” to your mother, your friend,

and your lover, to a lover you only slightly more than like,

to a lover you hope will never leave you. 

How do you ever know, she wondered, which love

your lover means? At first, I thought it was

a question of degree. I measured “I love you”s

by the way my lover looked at me. The context

mattered; love was true, since love shifts intensity,

since any lover is both friend and mother sometimes.

But then she said the word for love

Finns rarely say; they speak it to one person only,

or at most to very few. My friends grew serious,

as if the vastness of the word had swallowed speech. 

I asked if any of them had ever said it. 

By their looks, I understood none of them knew

what the others would say, and that no Finn

would ever ask this question. But they answered me

shyly, each explaining whom she’d said it to,

and I knew somehow the word involved the body,

that the body was what made it irrevocable.

What grief could I have spared if I had faced that choice

with the man I loved then? I would have said the word.

Knowing the word, I also would have known

how to love totally. And he, on the verge of a life with me,

would have whispered only some variant of like,

and the clarity of like would have set us free. 

Katy Didden’s first book of poems, The Glacier’s Wake, won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize from Pleiades Press and appeared this year.  She holds degrees from Washington University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Missouri.  She is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

Other "Free Verse" poets: Lee Upton, Annie Finch, Robert Wrigley, James Arthur, Janice N. Harrington, William Trowbridge, Francesca Bell, Joshua Mehigan, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Drucilla WallMichael Meyerhofer, Travis Mossotti, Allison Joseph, Stacy Lynn Brown, Adrian Matejka, David Clewell, Catherine Rankovic,Andy Cox, Rodney Jones, Sara Burge, Melody Gee, Christopher Todd Anderson, Andrew Hudgins, Richard Cecil.

To learn more about River Styx, click here. Richard Newman, River Styx editor for 18 years, is the author of two full-length poetry collections, "Borrowed Towns" and "Domestic Fugues." He also co-directs the River Styx at Tavern of Fine Arts reading series.

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