Lifestyle

VALENTINE’S DAY: For Love of Leonard Cohen

 

In the past ten years, Women’s Voices has posted scores of stories about romantic love—adolescent love, fraught love, long-lasting love, love betrayed.  For our Valentine’s Day coverage this year, we cast a wider net: We looked for stories about love in the broadest sense of the word— romantic love, sibling love, love for one’s community, love for a friend, the love between parent and child . . . Here’s the first story in the Valentine’s Day series we’re calling LOVE IN ALL CONTEXTS. —Ed.

 

It felt like love, though I’d never met him. He touched me in my deepest self.

It felt like religion, though he wasn’t a god. His words were my prayers, though their yearning for transcendence mingled with earthly desire, ragged optimism, outrage, and despair.

He gave me stories, and they felt like truth, sometimes even when I didn’t understand them.

He gave me truth, though they were merely songs.

He was Leonard Cohen, and when I learned of his death in November, right after the election (though he’d died before it), my grief for the country and my devastation over his loss were inseparable.

For the past three years, I’d been writing a poem to him. I hadn’t written poetry since college, but one day, some words popped into my head while I was in a taxi, and I typed them into my phone. Later, I wrote more: verses with rhythms and rhymes. I dedicated the poem to him, and it became his poem.  I carried a copy of it with me in my bag, and it felt like a friend; when I had a moment to myself, I’d read it, change a word, a phrase. It was good company. Though it wasn’t worthy of him, though some lines made me cringe and I couldn’t seem to reach that place where poetry met prayer, something about it felt true to his spirit, and when friends later told me that it was a song, not a poem, I knew they were wrong: it was a poem, though maybe it was a song too.

Then one day it was finished—nothing much had changed, but a moment arrived when I felt it was done, around the time when his album You Want It Darker was released.  I didn’t know what to do with it, so I sent it to a few friends who were similarly devoted; a couple of them even knew him, and I’d always had the feeling that one day I would meet him too. (At a concert at the Beacon in 2009, his former producer Bob Johnston introduced himself and told me that I looked so much like a member of the band in Israel in 1976 that Cohen would faint if he saw me—and I was looking forward to that.) Just weeks later, he died. We had never met, and I was left with my poem for him—my poem about how to be in the world in dark times.  With an America now dark with loss and fear, the time seemed right to share this poem I had kept so close for so long. I posted it on Facebook, and my friends were kind, and I felt at least part of a community of mourners, who had lost both an election and a voice—and his voice too.

A few weeks later, I received an email from one of the friends I’d sent the poem to. “I never got to tell you that I sent Leonard your poem,” he wrote. Though I wasn’t aware I was crying, tears ran down my face.  My friend later told me that he’d sent it to Cohen three days before he died—they’d been emailing.  “I can’t say for sure that he read it, but    . . . well, let’s say I’m pretty sure.”

I had met him after all.  And if he read my words, I hope they were good company in his final days.

 

I need to hold my head in

For Leonard Cohen

 

I need to hold my head in
In the rage and roar of life,
So I wear a hat upon my head
To hold the thoughts that can’t be said,
The thoughts that weigh with fear and dread,
…..That push and strain
…..And flow and thread
Along the channels of my brain.

I need to hold my head in
In the dusky haze of life,
When wisps of my uncertainty
Confound my sense of destiny,
Blurring the signs I ache to see,
…..The thoughts that daze,
…..That drift or flee—
(Why don’t they dazzle or amaze?)

I need to hold my head in
Through the constant stream of days,
Each morning when the headlines blare,
When sirens shriek and beggars stare,
When hope is just a fragile prayer,
…..I want to care
…..I want to feel
…..I pull my hat below my hair.

I have to hold my head in
In the rage and roar of life,
So I’ll keep a hat upon my head,
I’ll wear it till the fear has fled,
Till all the words are done and said
…..Till friends are gone
…..Till blood is bled
Until the dark has turned to dawn,
Until you give us one more song.

                 

Join the conversation

  • Carine M. February 15, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Celina, what a great poem ! Join us on Leonard Cohen site on Facebook. I will share your article and poem with all his fans. He is still alive, with his words, so special voice and class that are now eternal. Carine

    Reply
  • Jan Hersh February 10, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    If he read it he’d be so glad I know because I would love to read it just before I go. It’s a poem that can be sung and read again and again and again like Leonard’s songs…Hallelujah (repeat X4) for your poem and for him…My eyes burn and swim for a brilliant poem and for your success and again for him. Hearty applause here for Ms. Spiegel!!

    Reply
    • Celina Spiegel February 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Wow. Thank you so much–an incredibly moving compliment.

      Reply
  • b. elliott February 10, 2017 at 8:53 am

    What a fabulous story and poem. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Celina Spiegel February 12, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Thank you for reading and responding–it means a great deal to me!

      Reply