The Wages of Love Poems by Christie Max Williams

picture of Christie Max Williams
Photo by A. Vincent Scarano.  

Winner of the 2022 William Meredith Award for Poetry, Christie Max Williams’ The Wages of Love is a splendidly wide-ranging poetry collection, delving into the mysteries of love, the complexities of relationship, the joy of family, and the splendor of the natural world. As Margaret Gibson notes, the book is "finely crafted and deeply felt . . . a harvest of richly remembered and embellished moments whose nature includes inquiry, affirmation, passion, tender remorse, wistful encounter, honest compassion, wise joy. At home with narrative as well as with lyric reflection, Williams fully inhabits his poems with mellow humor and pleasure, without shirking the darker imponderables and challenges that come with learning to be fully human, or as he puts it, learning to be a 'good man.' This is a good man, and a good poet. How do we live, knowing that we will die? This ages-old question, though never asked directly in the book, may be central to these poems, which answer this way: we love. And the wages of love? More life: a tenderness toward existence, with all its endings and new beginnings.”
  The Wages of Love cover image
  Cover painting by Kathleen Kucka.

Christie Max Williams’ debut poetry collection, The Wages of Love, won the William Meredith Prize.  He is also a writer and actor. Though originally from California and then New York City, he now lives in Mystic, Connecticut, where he and his wife raised their daughter and son.  He has worked as an actor and director in California, New York, and Connecticut.  He also worked as a fruit vendor in Paris, a salmon fisherman in Alaska, a consultant on Wall Street, a writer for the National Audubon Society, and in leadership posts for non-profit organizations in whose causes he believes.  He co-founded and for many years directed The Arts Café Mystic, which is in its 28th year of presenting programs featuring readings by America’s best poets, complemented by music of New England’s finest musicians. His poetry has been published in journals, magazines, and anthologies, and has won the Grolier Prize, placed second in the Connecticut River Review Contest, and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and Morton Marr Prize.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-98-8
First edition, 2022
114 pages

Copies of this book can be ordered
from all bookstores including Amazon
and directly from the author:
Christie Max Willliams
5 Allyn’s Alley
Mystic, CT 06355
Please send $19.00 per book
plus $4.00 for shipping
  by check payable to Christie Max Williams.

He can be reached at



copyright © 2022 by by Christie Max Williams


                                    The Wages of Love in 2020


                                    we sprawled, a fleshy heap,
                                    molten, warm,
                                    sticky here and there,
                                    aroma thick and feral.
                                    Arms were gone askew,
                                    legs entangled,
                                    hands irrelevant.
                                    Amid the mess of bedding
                                    skin felt timeless,
                                    cheek pressed to shoulder,
                                    belly to butt,
                                    lips undone, turned blousy,
                                    time itself undone,
                                    time itself irrelevant.
                                    Well-being had become both mindless and mindful,
                                    we, all but immortal –
                                    gone the government’s venality,
                                    gone its daily lies –
                                    we, a congress of contentment,
                                    we, the president of pleasure,
                                    at once full and void,                         
                                    an end, a new beginning:

                                    the wages of love is life.

                                    Stars for Susan


                                    Where are you, friend? I need your voice, your face.
                                    I long to watch you listening to me,
                                    to know myself a glowing commonplace
                                    in your affection, to feel you simply be.
                                    O meet me at the usual café,
                                    yes, the one where I am always late,
                                    where the wine makes no demands on what we say,
                                    where we can be a night to celebrate.
                                    At the same quiet table sit the ghosts
                                    of our best selves, waiting to be moved
                                    to laughter – or is it tears? For them let’s toast
                                    the luck and mystery of being loved.
                                    Later, passing shuttered shops and bars,
                                    suppose we stop, look up – there might be stars!




                                    You, peering deep into the night,
                                    having wakened weak with grief
                                    to hours of unrelenting insight –

                                    you, abandoned by belief,
                                    in that too familiar room, alone,
                                    yearning for sleep’s unreal relief –

                                    know that your solitary groan
                                    is heard: know that your darkened care
                                   cuts close to the common bone –

                                    within the mind of that spindly chair
                                    or deep inside the bed’s uncertain frame,
                                    even in the window’s bare black stare

                                    your pain is greeted as if by name.
                                    Imagine that the tender pardon
                                    you have sought requires no shame –

                                    conceive of silence as a garden
                                    where the thinking heart may green
                                    a meaning. Trust that your heart will not harden –

                                    because if fading gods don’t intervene,
                                    nothing means but what you mean.


                                    So, the night has summoned you once more,
                                    and like a man condemned you mark the hours
                                    ’til dawn cracks open the day’s grim door.

                                    What’s left of hope the time devours,
                                    and yet you fear the night may never end:
                                    darkness sprouts such anxious flowers.

                                    But nothing is ever as you intend –
                                    wind blows, a sparrow shifts its perch,
                                    the moon continues to ascend:

                                    still, in what way does the autumn birch
                                    intend to lose its last gold leaf?
                                    There is no purpose in the search –

                                    there is only the brave motif
                                    of being: be the meaning of the night;
                                    be the object of your own belief.

                                    Truly you have been given the night
                                    to know: know it as your deeper part:
                                    close the book; switch off the light –

                                    listen: it’s the beating of your heart,
                                    the steady beating of your heart.


                                     Yes, the night is vast and you are not –
                                    its tide of darkness floods your mind,
                                    engulfing action, drowning thought

                                    as there you drift, inert, too blind
                                    to wonder – and yet, what is that smell?
                                    that apprehension un- or ill-defined

                                    which even sleep will not dispel?
                                    that cold faint foulness always there,
                                    seeping as from a deep but tainted well?

                                    Is it failure’s scented snare,
                                    the chill of decomposing dreams,
                                    or is it the perfume of fresh despair?

                                    If you seek its source, it seems
                                    so near – too near.  But can you be
                                    and fail to be what life redeems?

                                    Though drifting on the night’s vast sea,
                                    though north and south have fallen off your chart,
                                    the compass points at you unfailingly.

                                    You are the destination.  Start
                                    to swim: a guiding current will give you heart.




                                    That cheap hotel room
                                    just within the massive walls of old St. Malo:
                                    that small, airless, paid-for-in-cash room

                                    whose narrow window overlooked the café terrace,
                                    which that afternoon was slow and murmuring:
                                    that dim hot haven of a room

                                    with yellow walls – or were they yellowing? –
                                    and through whose slightly parted curtains
                                    slanting sunlight glorified a shaft of languid dust:

                                    that moment when I wakened there, my love beside me
                                    napping still, as were our little children head-to-toe
                                    upon the sagging slender bed a step from ours:

                                    that last-room-in-the-inn where, as I lay,
                                    their drowsy give and take of breath dwelled peaceably
                                    amid the distant café clink of cutlery and glassware:

                                    that was my momentary kingdom.



                                    A little house of greying shingles, say,
                                    with bright red shutters and a warped red door
                                    opening on a crooked porch which may
                                    or may not creak when the wind’s onshore;
                                    an old sea-humbled cottage, if you will,
                                    leeward leaning, indifferently snug,
                                    the salt-swell warping every window sill,
                                    the sand recalcitrant in every rug –
                                    a gangly bungalow with peeling paint
                                    and closet doors which will not shut when told,
                                    a place of memories near or faint,
                                    a beach for holding hands and growing old.
                                    upon a grave.  Yes, a life may sweetly hurt.


(while awaiting the subway)


                                    What did she see,
                                    that young and purely solitary woman
                                    standing in the cool gray silence of the subway stop

                                    as though composed by a photographer,
                                    book in hand, intently reading,
                                    her coral lips and quilted sky-blue coat

                                    the only colors in that timeless light –
                                    what did she see, as looking up
                                    amid the turning of a page, her eyes met mine?

                                    Perhaps I was a man
                                    no longer of an age to hope
                                    for her reciprocal regard,

                                    though the truth is it was not at her
                                    that I’d been looking,
                                    or should I say not only at her,

                                    but at the book
                                    in which she was so deeply steeped
                                    I had to know its title.

                                    My eyes were good
                                    though not as good as they used to be –
                                    what is?

                                    So as if to scan the twilit track
                                    for the train I hoped would be delayed,
                                    I took an oblique step not quite towards her,

                                    until just glimpsing the elusive cover
                                    of her book, just as her languid hand
                                    turned over that transforming page,

                                    just as her breasts rose up then subtly set
                                    on the impassioned breath she drew,
                                    which seemed in turn to lift her chin,

                                    the dying cadence in a melody of motion
                                    I could not help but follow –
                                    until her eyes met mine.

                                    What did I see
                                    if not a shining instant of her wonder –
                                    if not the lingering light reflected from
                                    whatever fire burned within the words just read?
                                    which in the moment of my marveling
                                    was suddenly eclipsed

                                    by her perception of whatever darkness skulked
                                    in my beholding mind –
                                    was smothered by a gathering gloom

                                    of fear, contempt, and violation –
                                    for something had been violated
                                    and in the mute unmeaning moment

                                    of that cool gray gulf of time and space
                                    she turned her back to me,
                                    retreated up the platform,

                                    then deftly re-composed herself,
                                    her sky-blue back still turned,
                                    the open book once more in hand.

                                    The very silence tittered at my shame even as a
                                    plaintive voice within me cried
                                    No please!  You don’t understand!

                                    I’m not like other men – I, too, read books –
                                    For me as well as you
                                    a fateful train will all too soon arrive . . .

                                    I might have crossed to where she stood
                                    and might have said these things,
                                    but history cast its iron shadow

                                    even on my dumb paralysis,
                                    since in New York it’s dangerous
                                    for strangers at a subway stop

                                    to seek an understanding.
                                    And yet, how can I not remember
                                    that her eyes were blue

                                    and that the title of her book was Immortality?