“First Poem For You” was the first poem for me

In my infinite wisdom (or just desire to not have to take a gym class), I signed up for a poetry class my senior year of high school. I was already writing quite a bit at the time, piecing thoughts together as prose and poetry when we sat down for our first class. Our teacher was a young, sensitive man who actually wrote some of his own stuff, too; we often begged him to read us his material. And he’s the one who poured Kim Addonizio on me for the first time.

Hearing him read “First Poem For You” was like someone throwing hot battery acid on my skin. What was once quiet, these little stretches of my heart, expanded. Here was a poem that spoke to me in a way that Dickinson, Shakespeare or Frost never could. Here were words that meant something, that resonated; here was contemporary poetry.

And I’ve never forgotten it.

In college, I went on to major in English Literature and entered into my university’s creative writing program, where I scribbled my own poetry and had it critiqued and graded by poets-as-professors and peers. In my four years in the English department, I thumbed through countless anthologies and heard a million sonnets, limericks and rhymes.

But nothing has superceded Addonizio’s “First Poem For You” in my mind; nothing can nudge it out as My Most Favorite Of All Poems Of All Time. 

Eight years after first hearing it, I’m still reading — and loving — this poem. It morphs each time I scan it, offering me a little more than what I saw before. It’s about permanence, transience; about loving despite knowing that someday, it could all be ripped away. That it will be ripped away as things change and take shape. That we will change as our lives take shape.

But some things never change.

First Poem for You

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.

It’s one line that haunted me and haunts me still: “Whatever persists or turns to pain between us . . .” I’ve yet to find a more gorgeous moment in a poem. It’s work like this that, once again, makes me question whether I could possibly rip something that honest and real out of me. I hope to God I can.

Addonizio, who lives and writes in California, has authored two novels and five poetry collections, one of which — Tell Me — was nominated for a National Book Award. “First Poem For You” comes from her collection The Philosopher’s Club, published in 1994. Her website is www.kimaddonizio.com.

Thank you to Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit for sponsoring the National Poetry Month Blog Tour! Visit her to read many other great posts on fabulous poets during the month of April.

10 thoughts on ““First Poem For You” was the first poem for me

  1. After reading such praise, I had this bit of nervous anxiety as I started to read “First Poem for You” – what if it doesn’t hold up to such a raving review? Well in the time it took me to read – oh – the first line, I knew I had nothing to be worried about. That poem is amazing. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  2. Wow, this is a powerful post and I am so glad that you participated in the National Poetry Month Blog Tour! Make sure you put your link in Mr. Linky and send the link to susan at winabook and she will post it on her blog as well. I’ve got all my links updated in the schedule.

    Now, onto the read-a-thon!


  3. It’s beautiful Meg. But I don’t feel the message. You know what I mean? I’m just one of those people who can’t read poems. As if I’m reading Korean or Japanese.


  4. “Like someone throwing hot battery acid on my skin” — I love it! There’s nothing quite like being an adolescent and finding something that speaks to you that way. And I love the poem. I’d never heard of this poet.


  5. Thank you so much for sharing your favorite poem! I’ve had the ‘hot battery acid’ feeling with a couple of my favorite authors and it’s amazing! It’s like the sky opens up and the sun shines right on you!


  6. the name was familiar to me, but after reading “First Poem for You”, I’m going to have to seek out more of Kim Addonizio’s works. Thanks also for sharing how poetry has impacted you.


  7. I am working on the this poem for my Eng Lit class and was just checking out what I can find on the web for some help. I’ve been analyzing this poem for a couple weeks and i find this poem very inspiring! I am so happy that someone else understands and truly loves this poem by heart because I love it, too. It is about the permanency and transience of love and relationship, and of course, everyone knows that nothing lasts forever. However, I feel like this poem is also telling us that sometimes, even when taking risks, nothing is promised. It is about the moments and memories along the journey that makes taking a risk worth it.


Comments are closed.