What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

I have read this story so many times, trying to make sense of it. Trying to glean the what I can from the dialogue–the majority of the piece. However, it still alludes me at times.

If you’ve never read this piece, you should certainly do so. It’s short–or at least, it’s a quick read. Takes a couple minutes and it’s one of the most profound short stories there is. Four people sit around a table drinking. That’s it. That’s the whole story. But what is remarkable about this piece is the way in which Carver captures the reluctance and doubt people have when they try to express and put into words, complex ideas that strain the limits of the English language. There are some concepts that English is simply not suited to describe and love is perhaps the most obvious one. Do we equate actions that we see on TV, in magazines, and other media forms and then act in those ways when we think we are in love?

While the piece deals with love, its ultimate goal deals with meaning. What we talk about when we talk about meaning, is perhaps a more apt title for the piece. However, most people might not get that.

What this piece does that I’ve never seen in any other piece, is steadily up the tension between the four people at the table without anything other than the dialogue really taking place in terms of action. While there is a recurring narrative conversation in the piece, Carver shows the character’s humanity through their detours of other topics. He juxtaposes their moods with not only their conversation but also with the light that slowly slides through the kitchen over the hours. By the end, there is no doubt, despite the lack of action, that something within all the characters present has changed.


3/10/15 Love Poetry–What a Drag

What peaks need we climb to find such heights as this?

I can feel your heart even through your back.

It pounds my chest like oceans do the shore.


I trap my hands within your flying hair.

I pull it tight like a kite within the air.

What depths must we plunge to feel such a press as this?


What streets must we walk to feel as lost as this?

I fall from every tree in my haste to come to you.

I wrap my arms around, press my face to your head to smell your sweet shampoo.


I squeeze to see if I’ll absorb.

You breathe out, in cold, your breath as orbs.

How far must we run to know each other true?


What path have our feet begun to tread when we are both so new as this?

I fall asleep with my hand over your heart.

Who we are together feels more real than when we are apart.


3/4/15 Strange Meetings

One week ago I met you in a bar. But that wasn’t where we met. We met in High School. This was just a reunion. It was also, potentially, just as awkward as a reunion. I had never spoken to you–not for real, not in any meaningful way. Oh, I knew who you were, to be sure. Always in the side of my vision–thinking you were cool and hip and out of my league.

We drank some beers and talked about existentialism and Henry David Thoreau and then drank more beers. After the bar called for the last round we ducked out into a cold night full of ice crystals and a dogged moon just scooting across the sky. You didn’t want to drive home, I didn’t want you to either, so I invited you over to hang out longer. I was afraid all my roommates would be in their beds sleeping away, but on the contrary, nobody was asleep. We drank a couple more beers and a little bit of rum. We chatted about whatever with my roommate. I couldn’t help be look at you and smile. I couldn’t help noticing small things–like the ways in which your eyes crinkled when you smiled.

When it became too late to stay awake he made some coy remark about sleeping in your car. There was no need.

I asked you questions in the dark and you asked me yours and there might have been some secrets whispered then, with that sluggish moon shining through my window, making the night seem long and drawn like our limbs as they mingled then broke apart then did so again. No mistakes were made.

In the morning there was no awkward silence. Instead slight smiles and nods and a mutual respect that felt like home had come to us both. Down at the restaurant your drank your coffee black, which told me something because, oftentimes, That’s how I like my coffee. I want, like you want, that bitter bite and he smoothness after. But then I tried something new and added a little milk and just a pinch of sugar, and that was all I needed.

The conversations we’d had the night before were slow in my recollection. They clung to some dark place in my brain and I dragged them out into the light of day in order to recall what I knew about you. Not everything was intact–little was, really.

Later that day, but not much later we took the winding road to a trailhead beat our feet upon the earth and breathed out any worry we might have had in reference to each other–because when we stood, on top of a rock we climbed, right in the sun and looking over the sun I asked you to come close to me. I kissed you–just briefly, but still a kiss. I needed to do that while not drinking. I need you to know it hadn’t been wrong or shallow or a fleeting thing. No. It was something exciting. Something I wanted to continue. Something I didn’t want to let go.