The International Literary Quarterly

February 2009


Donald Adamson
Robert Appelbaum
Rosemary Ashton
Sujata Bhatt
Stephen Burt
Rita Dove
Elaine Feinstein
Sophie Judah
John Kinsella
Ron Padgett
Pascale Petit
David Plante
David Shields
Susan Stewart
John Thieme

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Consulting Editor: Marjorie Agosín
Consulting Editor: Richard Berengarten
Consulting Editor: Jill Dawson
Consulting Editor: Denise Duhamel
Consulting Editor: Marilyn Gaull
Consulting Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Consulting Editor: Mimi Khalvati
Consulting Editor: Suzanne Jill Levine
Consulting Editor: Margot Livesey
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor:
Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Issue 6 Guest Artist: Anthony Whishaw

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Three Stories  by David Plante  

The History of Love

Start with: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant.

            To try for timelessness in writing, though the most “timeless” writing is the writing in which words have accrued most history, as do ancient ruins.

            To write with the acute awareness of the history of each word.

            To write out of love for the words, which is to love history.

            And where was the love of words most sustained? The absolute non-believer in the Ultimate Divine must admit: in prayer.

And to write

                                          he came to me smiling

as a prayer.


                                        he held out his arms to me

as a prayer.


                                        he loved

as a prayer.

            As he spoke, holding up what he called a jar as if in salutation, I noted a scar on his jaw. The jar was half-filled. We were in the midst of standing men, mostly aged, some old, and some young men, all holding what he called jars, all of us in dim light. I was holding an empty jar. He asked me if I would like a refill, and smiled, a spirited smile, when I thanked him. He hurriedly drank his jar down and took mine from my hand, touching my fingers with the tips of his fingers.
            I invited him home.

He was thirty five and I sixty five.

In my bed, to hold him, naked, was for me to be thirty five, to be thirty five and to have a tight scalp of short soft hair, to have a brow, cheek bones, nose, lips, jaw, neck, clavicle clearly and beautifully defined (oh, and all the more clearly and beautifully defined in the almost dark of the room, his scar gone) was to have a long, lean body, smoothly curving at the shoulders, the thighs, the buttocks. 
            He pulled back, perhaps suddenly seeing me as I was, which made me see myself as I was, and I thought: I should never have invited him here, he can only be with me because he wants something from me, will demand something from me and will become violent if I can’t give him what he demands. His eyes shone in the darkness of their hollows.

He said, ‘I must tell you—,’  and he lay still.

Empedocles the pre-Socratic philosopher wrote:

That all be reunited into one by an act of Love.

Now that he is dead, I try to understand, or at least magnify my sense of, the altogether sudden love that came to me when he told me, before we made love, that he was dying, that love making with him could be dangerous for me, could end in my dying too. This love came to me as a  ‘sense’ with all the multiple levels that that word raises:  from ‘sense’ as sensation, a feeling that I was in my body pulled towards him more than ever by the pull of his body’s dark gravity, to ‘sense’ as an implied meanging, to ‘sense’ as some strange apprehension beyond meaning, the very strange apprehension of an all uniting one in Love. And there was in the Love a flash of joy.

Our love-making was simple.

He spent the night, cuddled to me.

We slept together until late in the morning.

In the wan light, he looked wan, and said little.

At our late breakfast, both bathed and he in clean underclothes I gave him, he told me he didn’t have enough money to return to where he lived.

Trying to make a joke, I asked him what he would have done if I had not taken him home?  His smile was crooked.

He did not look well. He did not look well.

In his pale face, the scar appeared recent, red.

But he must keep up, for appreciation, some conversation. He spoke well, and I was more attentive to the individual words than his general topic, wondering how, through him, this still young man, should be articulated such ancient words as: I, you, us, essentially.

He stopped talking.

I said, ‘You’re not well.’

‘I’m not.’

‘What do you want that I can give you?’

He lowered his head and said, ‘I want to believe everyone’s death is unique.’

‘It is.’

‘And I want to believe in life after death.’

And I, the absolute non-believer in the Divine One, said, ‘There is.’

I gave him money and made him swear he would contact me when he was back to wherever he lived.

‘Goodbye,’ he said,  and, ‘Love.’

I was away for months, in another city, in another country. Returned, I heard that he had died.

Make this the center of all writing: a prayer to the dead, a prayer to the dead, a prayer in thanksgiving for all the words the dead have left us:

I love, you love, he/she loves, we love, you love, they love.



            He and his college roommate became lovers. After graduation, they separated and he did not see his former lover in forty years, or hear from him in thirty. When he learned that his former lover, whom he had loved and who had loved him, was dead, the immediate image that came to him was:

            The sheets of both their beds, stripped from their separate beds and piled in a tangled heap between the beds, the sunlight through the room’s window shining on the sheets.

            He remembered the courses in philosophy they had taken together.

            A friend said to him, “When you try to be metaphysical, you become pretentious.” And he sensed in that accusation all the learning he had had in logic, in epistemology, in ontology become suddenly an affectation, the learning of his years in a Jesuit college, as if his desire to answer the questions, “What is reasoning?” or “What is apprehension and how does one see the universal in the particular?” or “what is the essence of being?” had no relevance, were questions that had no meaningful answers, so, being meaningless, must not be asked.

            But as a student he believed in philosophy, which belief he had shared with his roommate even before they became lovers; believed that philosophy’s ultimate meaning was proof of the existence of God.  He had followed the reasoning from causality, followed, as if up a long, long ladder, the reasoning from causality up the to the top of the ladder to the Uncaused Causer, the One God in whom all originated and all was, up to where—faith required a leap higher than the ladder, a leap higher than reason, a leap into the unknown.

He leapt and he fell.

His former roommate, his former lover caught him in his arms.

In The Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Incorporeal things, of which there are no images, are known to us by means of their relation to sensible bodies of which there are images. And so when we understand something about incorporeal things, we have recourse to the images of bodies, although there are no images of incorporeal things themselves.”

His former roommate, his former lover gave him faith  beyond reason: in the miraculous occurrence, beyond reason, of Everything All Together, which apprehension could not come from experience, for no one had the experience of everything, but had a “sense” of everything.

To believe this “sense” of everything  as proof of Divinity, a Loving Divinity who inspires in us the “sense” of Everything Together--

That the Loving Divinity, Loving the World, gives us the vital “sense” of the World, and in that “sense” inspires in us Love for the World.

To sustain the Love, by keeping the Love centered in an image:

The body of his lover, the naked body of his young and beautiful and haloed lover, within a sphere, a celestial sphere, a Divine Sphere, ordered by the gentle immortal impulse of blameless Love.

A Prayer

We walked together about the old part of the city, once a walled-in city, the walls mostly ruins.

            He said to me, “No, I can’t believe in God, I can’t. Over the centuries, an untold, a truly untold number of prayers have been said to God for God’s help, and I can’t understand why God hasn’t answered every single one if God is a loving God. If God has answered some, they’re very few compared to those untold number of prayers that were not answered, prayers cried out by the desperate for God’s help, whole walled-in cities crying out for God to deliver them from massacre. And I won’t accept that God is testing our faith. The test is unreasonable, and if there is a God, God is supposed to be a reasonable as well as a loving God. No, no.”    

            I asked him, “Did you once believe?”

            And he answered, “I once believed.”

            “And you stopped believing.”

            “I more than said a prayer, I implored in prayer for God’s help, and God didn’t help.” He laughed. “I needed God’s help as a matter of life and death.”


            “Someone else’s life or death.”

            “And this someone else died.”


            I said, “The streets of this city once ran with blood, rivulets of blood along the gutters.”

            He was insistent: “And God did not help not even one prayer by one old woman hiding in a doorway to be saved.”

            He stopped to study the old worn stone paving.

            “I’m very tired,” he said.

            “You’re in mourning.”

            “Yes, mourning.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “If only God had saved him,” he said.  “If only God had shown proof—what I would have taken as proof—of God’s existence by answering my fervent prayer. I so wanted him to live.  I so needed him to live.  I felt the world, the whole world, needed him to live for proof of God’s existence for the world.  I would have let the world know, God exists, God answered my prayer, I would have gone around the world, gone around with him, alive, to every city, to let everyone know that I had proof, that God saved my loved one, there beside me.” He asked, “Do I sound crazy?”

            I wondered if he was, but I answered, “No.”

            “The vast, vast number, the untold number of those who, over centuries and centuries, of all religions, all, pleaded in prayer for God to help, and God didn’t. And I’m among them now, I’m one with them.”

I thought: I can’t help him.

 “Thank you,” he said, “thank you for listening to me. Thank you.”

I didn’t leave.

He said, “You see, he believed in prayer. Up until the end, he prayed.  He prayed and prayed.  You should have seen him in the end, as thin as a saint in the highest state of grace, shining, yes, shining right through his bones and skin, and smiling as he prayed. And up until the end I thought that the miracle might happen, that he would be restored to the full-bodied beauty he was, my Love, my Love, restored to his great beauty, my Love, restored to in his great beauty back into my arms, and I, I would love him all the more, my Love,  because I would believe that God saved him, that he was proof that there was a God.”

I reached out a hand to shake his before leaving him.

He said, “And now I want to tell everyone, tell the whole world, that there is no God.”