Poets Online Archive
Unrequited (Love and Otherwise)
May 2005

Unrequited love. Love that is not reciprocated or returned in kind.  A staple for writers from Shakespeare to TV sitcoms.

Mary Burbage (a character imagined by Michelle Cameron in her novel in verse, In the Shadow of the Globe ) falls in love with William Shakespeare. Her affections are not returned and the two paired poems we examined show Mary's admission of love ("Of My Unrequited Love for Will Shakespeare"), and Shakespeare's ("Quite Contrary") awareness of it.

But certainly our options for the unrequited are not limited to love. A web search immediately turns up the unrequited past, unrequited narcissism, unrequited friendship, admiration, charity...

Write your poem on the theme of something unrequited. It might be interesting to use two voices (though in one poem) letting the reader hear both sides, or you might select the less often heard voice of the one who chooses not to reciprocate.


Part 1: The Submission/Dream Deferred

It's been four long months--one third of a year--since
I sent out three sets of poems. Four months of silence.

Each day I walk down to the mailbox in this ritual of waiting
Have I become another Penelope? Will this take ten years?

As I approach the plain black box, I mutter a makeshift prayer
To the gods of poetry--perhaps this will be the day I hear from you.

Then quickly, before I open the small door, I try reverse psychology
On the mailbox: maybe there will be three rejection slips, not just one or

From the open box, I pull out the pile of mail, sorting through
It right there on the spot--occupant flyers, bills, unsolicited requests for
Car & Driver, The New Yorker, an offer for another credit card, garden
catalogs, but nothing from you.

Why is it my heart was racing a moment ago as I imagined the No. 10 envelope
with my name written in my own hand, bearing the small slip that would say
(in no uncertain words) that my poems were not what you wanted?
I imagined it as only a slip--no handwritten note, no signature, nothing

Still, by your silence, you've given me one more day of hope.

Part 2: The Rejection Slip/Dream Denied

The table is stacked with four piles
Of paper, unending submissions
Of poems, each with its carefully worded
Cover letter that sums up a life
In one brief paragraph.
Could there really be that many poets
All wanting to be published?
We have so little space, only ten or twelve
Poems can be accepted, yet still they come,
Like polite but uninvited guests, each holding
Out the hope that they will be the one who
Is asked to stay a while, maybe have a coffee
As we sit around the editorial table (just an old
Wooden table someone picked up at a yard sale
For forty dollars) talking & discussing poetry.

We've read them all, so now we bring out
Our favorites. This is the time of reckoning,
Bargaining among the editors.
Yours is in my stack. I liked the one
About Persephone. It left me thinking
Differently about pomegranates.

The coffee is cold by the time we finish.
We've read so many poems that one blends
Into another. We are up to ten now, and
There are so many left we cannot use. I
Make a case for your poem, but it turns out
That a former student of someone's mentor
Has submitted five. We will take two
And that makes our dozen. I know
Yours could make that magical baker's dozen,
But our pages are full, and so I scribble a line,

"Sorry, we can't use these poems
Right now, but we wish you luck
In getting them published."

I initial it before I slide the 2" x 5" rejection
Slip into the stamped, self-addressed envelope
You so carefully provided.

Several days from now, you will find the thin
Envelope, maybe even hold it up to the sun
And see the slip hiding there--hope unrequited


Mary Kendall


The door slams and you step out.
The window tree's petals fall like snow.
Your unrhymed words left no doubt
but left with you in the street below.
Behind the curtain's green glow,
I open up and let the flood of light.
Pray that with it comes sight.

Pamela Milne


the dome light is pale against her skin
which flushes easily
especially when the car won’t go into gear.
it’s awkward from this angle.
the 90 degree music pounds the transmission
and it slips,
but she doesn’t mind
because she’s free --
freer still with the CD
spinning wildly in the dash.
she strums the steering wheel,
twirls the loose leather trim
around her ring finger like a jewel,
then smoothes it carefully, her full attention
on the grey zigzag piping.
the song isn’t one she likes
but it’s playing
in the dark as she glides down
the midnight asphalt
of her dreams.
she forgets about the interior light
and we can spy her
backlit, long blonde hair
spiraling in the window’s draft,
lips moving
unbridled and loose --
her milky skin shiny and smooth --
a teenager’s precocious kiss

Karyl Goldsmith


Born when I was ten,
she became my charge.
After school till bedtime
I did everything mothers do:
Bathe and diaper, bottle and spoon feed,
sing songs, rock her to sleep.

I showed her how to hold a spoon,
build with blocks, pet a kitten.
I taught her colors, numbers,
nursery rhymes., read her books
made up stories to feed
her appetite for words.

Grown up, she barely talks to me,
Says he can’t remember
Any of that – that maybe
I imagined it. Her eyes say
I don’t owe you anything –
As if I ever asked.

Alice E. Johansen


I could understand unrequited love
If I drove around in the latest
Cadillac SUV with a small bump up front
That looks like an over grown
Mini Morris in black;
Even its high tech hub caps
Are cut out spokes as a toy.

Today, in this suburban mall
There is a convertible Dodge Fury,
With the top down, a full sized one
Out of the silent past of Eisenhower.

It has  ecru leather seats,
It is five million dollars of pop art
At a big screen drive in auction.
It has slowly been driven down
From Sunset Boulevard past Benedict Canyon
And enters Malibu.

One sees a sky as blue
As the water in Three Coins in the Foundation,
While passing Cedars and Pines
As on the Via Appia,
Hollywood can do such things.
It has a better than new show room finish
In a perfect red lacquer like mint proof coin.

The radio plays Doris Day,
For she in on the dash board singing
Que sera, what will be, will be.
Now Doris Day is in the front
Now, Doris is in the back seat
Saying do you love me
Or is that a flash light in your pocket?
She will forget
Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson,
Because their love would  be unrequited.

And she can moan,
Now and in the past and in the future
Requite me love.

Edward N. Halperin


Lonely without you
and impatient to return.
So impatient, my love
I bite my tongue
like my dear mother
always strongly recommended
when I "had to go."

A long road runs be-
tween us -- hot and dry and old.

I'll make my quota, sure --
maybe more -- but small hotels
(except this one just north of Houston with
a full fried chicken dinner with green
beans and rolls and butter
for 85 cents with apple pie
and a slice of cheese for
only 10 cents more)
make horrible homes.

And I smoke too much and
I drink too much
and think too much (of you)
and I miss you too much and when
I return, sweetheart, have
patience with my love.

I try patience
over and over. It
works on the road,
in the car, but at
moonrise or dawn
I bleed, can't speak
numbed with
wanting you
your patience
my patience
my tongue
your voice
your love


Brad Bowles


"How bitter a thing it is
to look into happiness
through another man's eyes!"
   - As You Like It , Vii

so now he is yours
you are his
I don’t know how to say this
so that it sounds tolerable.
I am watching the two of you
through the window
as you talk and touch
as you laugh
as you hold each other
and walk from the room
to what I know is your bedroom.
When the light comes on,
I have to spit the bitter taste
from my mouth,
then the salt of blood
when I bite down hard
at the bedroom going dark,
and my grip tightens on it
and the window glass
shatters like everything else
in the black empty night.

Charles Michaels


It’s not that he loves you any less
When he doesn’t call.
He’s just busy.
It’s not that he loves you any less
When he can’t fly in to see you.
It’s just scheduling conflicts.
I wish my mind could control my heart
And I could sit like Penelope, still and busy,
Certain of the future and not concerned,
Feeling that the present must be taken care of
Rather than fearing future disaster,
Terrified that silent spaces will dominate my life.

Ellen Kaplan


Fever-flush at the tips
of your high-frequency
receptor ears,
you just disappear
into landscape.
You don’t return my fervor.
Fox, I’m yours.
See how my long nose
See how I’m forced to sit
on my tail
pretending to be
I’ll slip into your
camouflage, unshoe my feet
so they make no sound
running from the Sunday hen-
house gossip,
biscuits at high-tea.
I’ll fly with you
for the bushes.
I’ll make no more
shadow than a thief.
I’ll steal
myself free.
Don't run from me.

Taylor Graham


Another unwanted present.
Inappropriate, even.
You are not mine,
Nor am I yours.

If our eyes meet
There is no hesitation.
You are with me,
No words needed.
You are not mine,
Nor am I yours.

Do not think I am not tempted.
You are beautiful, graceful:
All that I could want.
And yet (for always there is a "yet")
To me, you are a walking irritation.
A sneezing, wheezing, fit.

Why did you have to be a cat?

Mark Earls


almost enough to taste your look of disdain--
I sit among this pompous symphony,
our silent-scarred lips
that no one covets.

We watch the man behind the microphone
sing no lyrics and strum no guitar.
There is the cigarette
that someone left burning

Listen to the foot
that taps nervousness
in the good company
of those who lack diction.

with our hands silently twisting
keys and pocket change,
the space between admittance
and the response that does

not come. Trains delayed
for repairs some place
far from here,
on tracks unknown.

The clocks have paused,
circles have stopped,
soon, I'm sure
that lines will begin.

Please give my highest regard
to the dear placidity I've shattered.
Give my deepest sympathy
to remorse.

Trevor Taniguchi



Michelle Cameron's first full-length novel in verse, In the Shadow of the Globe was published by Lit Pot Press, Inc., in late 2003. It was named as the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's 2003 Winter Book Selection. In addition, it has become a performance piece in various venues and will be fully staged by the Vintage Players in fall 2005.

In the Shadow of the Globe is a poetic narrative in ten acts of the lives and loves of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. While primarily a book of poetry, In the Shadow of the Globe is also a fusion of genre. Because there is a distinct story line, describing the imagined lives of actual people, it is historical fiction. As it is told in many voices, it can also be considered a piece of theater.

Michelle's poetry has appeared in Riding the Meridian; 2River View; Samsara Quarterly; Stirring; The Paumanok Review; jerseyworks; and flashquake, Literary Potpourri; Ink Pot; Lilith; LIPS; Uno; Midnight Mind; and The Paterson Literary Review.

By day, Michelle is Vice President, Creative Director at Interactive Media Associates, a digital agency specializing in Internet planning, design, development and marketing. Michelle also teaches as an adjunct faculty member for the College of Saint Elizabeth's Communications department, where she teaches public relations and business writing in the Fast Track Program.

Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

     read an interview with Michelle Cameron




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