Richard Beban

14 Love Poems

Selections from What the Heart Weighs

Friday The Laundress Said

she would no longer wash my
favorite shirt, the khaki cotton
with the pocket flaps, epaulets
& button tabs that
gathered the rolled-up sleeves.

“I cannot take responsibility,”
she said, Middle European
honor at stake. Her fingers probed
the sou-sized holes at the corners
of the pockets. She clucked at the
collar, not just frayed, but after
ten years, separated altogether.
& when she held the back in
front of her face, like Salome’s veil,
the cloth revealed Salome’s mustache
& crooked yellow teeth.

“This is cheap shirt,” she eulogized,
“you can get another.” “The Louvre,”
I said. “Pompeii. Michelangelo’s David;
St. Peter’s Square; Versailles buried
in autumn leaves. Four-in-the-morning
lightning across the face of a
Barcelona cathedral. A riot of pink
& purple cosmos in Monet’s garden.
A loneliness so profound on a dock
in Salerno I thought I would die.
Lunch on a sun-bright terrace
in Mediterranean Spain with two
crazy film directors & twenty-two
kinds of mussels fresh from the sea.
A week in Sylvie’s Paris bed, her yogi’s
body bent in asanas of love, my
novice’s bones barely able to keep
up, but my flesh was singing &
I had to follow.”

The thin khaki cotton threads
pulsed under her fingers.

A slow nod, & she threw the
shirt on the scrap table, smiling,
satisfied. I left, to weave it
back together.



In your leopard-skin silk pajamas
(with the scarlet piping at the sleeves
& lapels), you waved goodbye

from our balcony at dawn—
a sudden, extravagant gesture, regal,
both arms high, love triumphant,

& released from the sidewalk magnolia
a scattering of doves neither of us
knew was there. They fluttered, jubilant,

whistling at the light from your face,
which they took
to be the sun.


for KK

A black & white Dalmatian-
spotted opossum, sharp at
nose & long pink tail,
meanders, barrel-bodied,
across our quiet street, skirts
edge of the neighbor’s lawn,
disappears, king of nonchalance,
past impatiens & agave plant,
around the corner of the brick

My love is an opossum, unexpected,
oddly shaped, close to the ground
& somehow resolute, certain of itself,
& you.


She Asks Us Both to Imagine the Relationship Won’t Last

None of this ever happened.
The man & woman never met.
juices never mingled
hearts never beat together.
In the beginning,
world never started turning,
darkness stayed without form
& void. God missed
his cue. Infinite number of
monkeys never got born, no
typewriters got invented, Shakespeare
didn’t get written. Blake, Whitman
never sang. Your eyes were never



It’s just greed, I know. I want it all,
forever. I want the wonder
of the hummingbird clicking & whistling
each morning at the feeder—
speed & thrumming music
of its wings, the tiny drop of sweet nectar
on its needle beak as it hovers,
raises its head,
feels the delicious trickle
in its silver & purple throat that scatters
from a ballroom globe. I want forever
the sparrow’s dance
among the magnolia’s waxed green
& leather orange leaves,
effortless hop from branch to branch,
side-to-side head dips as it rubs its conical beak
on a rough patch of bark. I want my lips
to brush the pulse in the hollow
of your throat, your fingers warm
on my skin, my heart expanding
under your gaze.

There is a face
in the magnolia this morning
that is, really,
only shadows on the bottom
of a wrinkled orange leaf
in the flat October sunrise. Its right eye
just a hollow;
its nose the leaf’s central ridge;
its surprised, slightly open mouth
–asking the gods for more time—
is a small imperfection
the leaf beginning to curl in on itself,
lips visible only now. It is that face
some see on the desert planet Mars—
a trick of light on rock weathered
by solar wind. It is my face,
lit for a brief moment.


From I Burn For You

First Anniversary Pantoum
(for Kaaren)

To the south, the west, amethyst enamel clouds
& lacquered sky. Worlds away, men sweep the Plaka, empty
torrents of gray water—rivers live a moment, reflect on
cobblestones made dark by countless pilgrim feet

& lacquered sky. Worlds away, men sweep the Plaka. Empty
of self we stare at the fading rose shimmer of sun &
cobblestones made dark by countless pilgrim feet,
the coming night. We see beauty & imagine grace

of self. We stare at the fading rose shimmer of sun &,
pouring off your face, reflected light. I celebrate
the coming night. We see beauty & imagine grace
in our vow to the gods, in our human works.

Pouring off your face, reflected light. I celebrate
how we stood & promised in their sight, forever
in our vow to the gods, in our human works,
in Delphic chasms, in stones, in each other’s eyes.

How we stood & promised in their sight, forever
& pledged love at once so fragile & so strong
in Delphic chasms, in stones, in each other’s eyes.
We have not wavered, though we have trembled

& pledged love at once so fragile & so strong
it holds us close & supports our work—
we have not wavered, though we have trembled
at creation; we are novices, seek the gods’ blessing

it holds us close & supports our work—
it brings the gods to life again—
at creation we are novices, seek the gods’ blessing,
promise fidelity in all lives, through all

torrents of gray water. Rivers live a moment, reflect on
to the south, the west, amethyst enamel clouds.


Selections from Young Girl Eating a Bird

He Tries Again to Describe the Ineffable

The sparrow that chirps in simple joy
among white magnolia blossoms
has an easier job than I. Songs of love
are the hardest. To translate your touch—
warm & firm, yet soft & electric—to a printed page
that has no skin
is like saying chocolate
to a creature with no tongue.
The way your eyes drive light
ahead of them, enfold me in grace.
The scent of your skin in the hollow
of neck & shoulder.
The peregrinations of thought
inside your skull
where three pounds of gray gelatin
& an immeasurable portion
of soul alchemize
words that tumble
from your lips
in constant blessing.
Words, your love for words
well-chosen, the way you
structure a sentence,
tell a story, the excitement of your
breath caught up in story or caught up
in making love. The flush that rises from
your chest to your cheeks, pulls your lips
into a surprised circle before the tension
melts. What you give to me then.
What you give to me always.



You, across the room in blue
velvet blouse, Levi’s tight across
the front of your thighs, the curve
as your hand cleaves the air, as you weave
your tale, pull the listener close with the sheer
force of you. I was pulled, too, the way bees
are pulled to the depths of flowers & made giddy
with the stories pollen tells. I return again & again
to the same flower & the story never tires.


How She Looked On Her Wedding Day
(for KK)

It’s true. A bride gives off a light
like Aphrodite rising newborn
from the sea. The candles in this small
vaulted chapel glow like jewels,
each reflects a tiny facet
of her fire—but they are dust
before a diamond. Her face
cannot contain the twin suns
of her eyes, yet her smile burns
more fiercely than they. Or does
her whole body tremble bright
on the brink of nova? It shimmers
white, steals all the light
of heaven & sends it back
to bathe this grateful earth
in blessing.


It’s a Mystery to Me

She came, in truth, to teach me how to love,
I’d often trod that path all slick with ice;
a simple task to make a grand mess of,
twice slipped up on the aisle of shoes & rice.
Turn’s out I’d known too well what love was not,
mine “altered when it alteration finds”;
hers never wavers in either deed or thought,
unbending, Shakespeare’s “marriage of true minds.”
I wish I could do more than testify,
uncork some ancient chemistry we’ve found—
but it’s really not my doing, though I try,
it’s she who, being steady, gives me ground.
They say proximity helps rub off luck;
glad I was standing close when Cupid struck.

*Quotes from Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.”


I Try to Relate the Story of Our Marriage to a Dinner Party of Famous Poets

A delicate tale can seldom survive
barrages of one-liners, puns passing
for conversation amid adrenaline-
drenched, ravenous, post-reading poets
breaking bread, raptor pupils glistening
wet from third glasses of wine on our host’s
tab, eager to devour late entrees.

Our love becomes just an hors d’oeuvre whetting
their profuse appetites for cynicism,
& I see afresh my mother’s brothers,
still pimply teens when I was five or six,
memorizing, then regurgitating
at supper, page-by-page, the entire
contents of Jan Murray’s Giant Joke Book

whose hoary innards hearkened to vaudeville,
My uncles begged attention but shunned truth,
hoped no one would scrutinize them deeply,
concede they had nothing to say themselves—
or everything, if only granted souls,
blessing for more fragile qualities, not
merely facile words. Quiet now, I smile

at these poets I’d admired, again
strangers, recalling how I resembled
them before you gazed into me—saw past
my uncles, their wounds I had adopted,
their fearful fortifications–& praised
this delicate, abundant man you found,
who mirrored your private, exquisite depth.


His Periodic, Imperfect Love Poem

Beneath every word in this poem skulks
the better word; petulant it hasn’t
been used. I say, your morning coffee, which means:
I adore you, which means: concert of heart,
dendrites, endorphins, viscera, which means:
your eyes emit light visible with mine
closed. At your birth, the Periodic Table
possessed only ninety-six elements,
today, one hundred-eighteen. But three slots
stay vacant, elements undiscovered
that physicists are certain lurk somewhere.
Perhaps the best word breathes in that charmed space,
elemental, with a half-life of eternity.


What Comes Next

Maybe, he thinks, it is like the Noh: whenever
the script says dance, whatever the actor does
next is a dance. If he stands still, he is dancing.

To See if Something Comes Next
—Jack Gilbert

The script said marriage & we dance joined
to all that has come after. The sublime:

torrential rains of sweat as the Aztec god
Tloloc blesses our soaked sheets

& spent selves. The abysmal: as age
summons its legions of younger

& younger doctors whose diagnoses
are nonetheless mere opinions. & best

of all, the quotidian: each day four
scoops of Sumatran to ten cups water

for you; the regular bliss of your blue eyes;
the plain ecstasy of your superheated

touch; the ordinary joy of reunion
after the simple errands that part us.

I will keep dancing with you well beyond
the commonplace day the script says death.


My Funeral

I won’t be anywhere near it, of course,
still uncertain that I’m immortal

Those who attend will all know that I,
like Elvis, haven’t really left the building.

Marty Balin will sing “Comin’ Back
to Me,” backed only by Jorma &

the finest flautist they can find. My
favorite picture of me will grace

the altar, if I can find one in all the film
expended over the centuries. If not,

an abstract—better still a Picasso,
whatever he will loan of the Minotaur.

My friends will gorge to satiation,
Guinness to a stupor, dance ‘til the cows

themselves join in, full udders sloshing,
honoring the bull, consort of the Goddess.

The Goddess will be dry-eyed, assured
of the next life, & all of ours forever after.

She will sprinkle the gritty gravel husk
of me at Knossos, Paris, Sligo; recite

her poems & wait, local wine in hand,
until spring & the certain resurrection.

Richard Beban was a Californian who moved to Paris, France, in 2011, with his wife, Kaaren Kitchell, where his poetry metamorphosed into photography. He and Kaaren published an online journal, Paris Play, of his photographs and her essays. He was a photojournalist from 1974-1980, when he could afford the extra space in his house for a darkroom. He picked up a Nikon again in 2009, when he realized you could do “darkroom” work on a Mac, and became besotted with the Digital Age. Richard was a contributing photographer to two poetry anthologies for TheScreamOnline, Dreams and Heaven & Hell.

His first full-length poetry book, What the Heart Weighs, was Red Hen Press’ best-selling title of 2004, and the Los Angeles-based press also published his second full-length collection, Young Girl Eating a Bird, in 2006.

He began writing poetry in 1993, and performed more than 150 featured readings, from Paris, to Seattle, to Nashville, to Los Angeles. He had more than 100 major publication credits, from local journals to more than two-dozen national and international anthologies.

He taught one-day or weekend Eco-poetry workshops in three different states, a weekend seminar in How To Promote Your Own Small Press Book, poetry at levels from K-12 to graduate school, and workshops in mythology with Kaaren Kitchell at various California venues.

He died in Paris on May 1, 2019. Friends, family, and Kaaren celebrated his life and work at Père Lachaise in Paris, Beyond Baroque in Venice, The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and Dolores Park, in San Francisco, where he was born.

top photo: Venus in Love
© Joanne Warfield
Polaroid Emulsion Transfer