In Their Own Words

Amanda Johnston on “Love is a Bloody Thing in the Dark”

Amanda Johnston headshot

Love is a Bloody Thing in the Dark

I keep faith in tangible things: the known
weight of bagged rice, ounces of milk,
the height of children recorded on doorframes –
my hand balancing time with lead.

Before the land was plotted, scored into square
footage, before rings were sized and exchanged,
we needed to see what was within: the microscopic
language of platelets, bodies fused together.

What armies sit dormant in our dark? What pathogens
did we welcome in our slow and steady march
coming that bloomed in silence without
lesions, whispers, or fevered sweat?

I'd like to think I know my body
and the bodies multiplied across my back.
We kiss and you
kiss them all.

From Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press, 2017). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Love is a Bloody Thing in the Dark"

I'm a Virgo and I live for a plan, a list, knowing what is and what isn't. I'm also a sucker for love. As a child, I would write lists imagining what my life would look like: a loving husband, two kids, a house, and maybe a dog. My childhood fluctuated between varying degrees of basic security and crisis that in no way showed me this romanticized idea of life was possible. I took the bait that a strong work ethic and clear course of action would guaranty the future I desired. Of course, this isn't how life works. There are no guarantees.

A coworker once told me that she and her husband sign the same anniversary card every year to each other. "It's like a contract we renew." she said. Before I could congratulate her and gush over their "accomplishment" of more than 30 years of marriage, her face changed and she said, "Of all the vows, 'in sickness and health' is the one that will really test you." My husband and I have been married now for nearly 18 years and we've dealt with our share of illness. Sick children, the unexpected health issues, and lurking beyond test results was still a fear of the unknown. What didn't we know would come? From the beginning, we discussed previous partners and made sure we were tested for STDs and knew our health status. Over the years, the dream of my perfectly planned marriage and life fluctuated through varying degrees of confidence and mistrust. Infidelity and the process of re-centering yourself after makes you question everything you thought you knew about yourself and your partner. Ultimately, we chose, just as we did in the beginning, each other. He chose to trust me again. I chose to trust he still loves me. We stepped into the unknown future with each other. We kiss each other wholly without knowing exactly what that means. We returned to the careful practice of caring for each other as best as we can.

The opening line of the poem "I keep faith in tangible things" was inspired by an interview with Li-Young Lee for PBS NewsHour in which he said his wife comes from a family that "wants proof of things." I wrote this poem to speak to the attempt to collect proof of love and how we inevitably step into it blindly.

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