Tess Gallagher may, unfairly, be more known for her marriage to short story legend Raymond Carver than she is for her own impressive body of work. She studied writing at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop with Theodore Roethke and has numerous poetry collections as well as short story collections.
On the Poetry Foundation website, Stanley Kunitz described Gallagher as “outstanding among her contemporaries in the naturalness of her inflection, the fine excess of her spirit, and the energy of her dramatic imagination”
I was greatly moved by Tess’s poem The Hug from the collection Amplitude and am reminded of it and re-read it several times a year.
A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too,
with our arms around each other…
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 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, 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…
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 on my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.