Late Love

Late Love
How they strut about, people in love,
how tall they grow, pleased with themselves,
their hair, glossy, their skin shining.
They don't remember who they have been.

How filmic they are just for this time.
How important they've become – secret, above
the order of things, the dreary mundane.
Every church bell ringing, a fresh sign.

How dull the lot that are not in love.
Their clothes shabby, their skin lustreless;
how clueless they are, hair a mess; how they trudge
up and down streets in the rain,

remembering one kiss in a dark alley,
a touch in a changing-room, if lucky, a lovely wait
for the phone to ring, maybe, baby.
The past with its rush of velvet, its secret hush

already miles away, dimming now, in the late day.
Jackie Kay

from Life Mask (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2005)

Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. She has published five collections of poetry for adults (The Adoption Papers won the Forward Prize, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award) and several for children. She was awarded an MBE in 2006.

Read more about this poet
About Late Love

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2006. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2006 was Janice Galloway.

Editor's comment: 
Kay is wholly accessible, marvellously resonant. This carries pain as well as humour, pitched just so.

Author's note: 
'Late Love' is the opening poem in my collection Life Mask, a book that dwells on the various masks we wear. In this poem, I was interested in how people in love differ from people who have fallen out of love and how physically that manifests itself.  I was also interested in the idea that when people are madly in love they are in love with the idea of being in love as much as they are with each other, and so the world feels as if it belongs to them, and they feel invincible,  forgetting the other, sadder state of not being desired or wanted. I wanted the poem to explore both states – in and out of love – and turn on a line, the way that love can change in a day. And I hoped that the poem might make people laugh with recognition. I wanted to explore the idea that being in love itself can be a kind of a mask, and that there is a certain amount of kidding that must go on – 'I've never felt like this before' etc – for the crazy state to be entered fully!