When I work with incarcerated teens they are always talking about their girlfriends or boyfriends who are usually on the outside and who they usually don’t get to see very often. This inevitably leads to them wanting to write love poems. So this is a fun exercise to do because it makes them think about the various ways we can show our love for people.

I ask the students to give me ways they know someone loves them, or ways they can show someone they love them, without using the word love. (Truly, they never see this exercise coming which is so much fun.)

They are usually really good at coming up with ways to show someone you love them. Here’s a partial brainstorm from one of my classes:

tell them they look hot
buy them candy
do their chores
offer to babysit
clean your room without being asked 100 times
cook their favorite foods
let them pick what you watch on tv
buy them presents

You get the idea. After we have filled the board with this sort of brainstorm I tell them we are going to write love poems but there’s one catch – they can’t use the word LOVE anywhere in the poem but we should be able to feel the love anyway.

I truly thought this would be one of the hardest exercises for my students but time after time, it has proven to be one of the most popular ones.

Here’s a partial draft of one of my poems that fits this exercise.

Normally I get the sheets changed on time
more or less
laundry kept up
more or less
clutter under control
more or less
but this week less wins most of those battles.

Maybe it’s the way
I barely make it to the bathroom in time
but he notices something about me
and asks are you okay?
I shake my head no and he holds my hair
away from my face,
and I lean over the toilet
while my stomach rebels.

I camp on the couch and
he brings me clear liquids
soda crackers
makes sure the bucket
the remote control
and the phone
are close at hand when he has to leave.

He comes home carrying every comfort food
he can remember I’ve ever mentioned,
alternates his day between letting me nap
and bringing me more foods
to tempt my lack of appetite.

He keeps the house running quietly in the background
lets the dog out
the back in again
ten times a day
while I do battle with the flu,
rubs my back,
tucks the comforter up under my chin,
and encourages the dog
to camp nearby, close enough for me to pet.

When he blows me a final kiss goodnight
I look into his eyes
dark starsparks telegraph a message
straight to my heart until it swells with happiness
and I count my blessings
lucky to be married to him.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

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