“Kissing as a Religion” by Susan Doble Kaluza

Susan Doble Kaluza


In 19th century Rome it was said that the monks
kissed the backs of their hands as a sign of repentance.
Oh, how I repented as a Catholic girl, even as I kissed you—

kissing and repenting, kissing and repenting—as I pulled your top lip
with my teeth, biting ever so gently. How absurd to think
kissing gets any better than the first time you leaned over me,

breath thick with Jack and Coke, that rogue teenage elixir,
and whatever warp speed hormone instigates back seat sex
and what is now considered nothing but a little teasing

in the area of petting. Sounds like a zoo, kissing does, back then
travelling north on the county road just after dusk, after the cattle
lumbered off on their arthritic hocks, kicking up dust that smelled

like manure and left us alone in your idling car in the middle of the pasture.
I’ve fought the urge for years to write a poem about your lips, for which
I can only think in terms of “exquisite” and other adjectives strictly forbidden

in poetry classes—your perfectly aligned teeth, your soft boyish whispers.
Sometimes I think I was never actually there in the afterlife of your words,
those jerry-rigged one-liners bolstering my heart, stopping, not stopping

in my ear as you pulled back my hair. Now I think there was nothing to repent for,
nothing to confess. If ever there was a sin for which penance was required
it would be for never kissing like this not once since.

from Rattle #43, Spring 2014
Tribute to Love Poems


Susan Doble Kaluza: “I think I write for the kind of truths that poems give voice to, the kind that startle me about myself when I’m connecting thoughts with sounds, and vice versa. The English language is (I hope a worthy metaphor) an untapped oil well of riches that, through a very careful and personal arrangement of words, must be worked for, even won. It might even be an extended creation of one’s own being out of the sense that sounds make. When I’m working on a poem, when I don’t know what day or time it is, when I forget to eat, is when I’m happiest. In fact, often, in combination with my weekly runners’ highs, I’ve nearly collapsed from joy. When I finish a poem, when the whole thing rolls musically and effortlessly off my tongue, I sit back like I’ve just tunneled through the cells walls to another human oil well, and sometimes I cry.”

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