Best Guess at Love: A Poem By Paula Marafino Bernett

By Ryan Latini

It’s February and the SVJ archive has a Valentine’s Day gift for you!

Snuggle up with your special someone, and enjoy Paula Marafino Bernett’s, “Double Negative Prayer”.

Did we give you the gift of a love poem, or the frustration of a riddle—a conundrum disguised as a prayer?  Why can’t Paula Marafino Bernett say simply what it is that she wants?

A double negative does one of two things—it provides a roundabout affirmation, or it amplifies the negative.  In cinema, “Don’t say nothin’!” is often the threat of a gangster or villain.  Pink Floyd, in “Another Brick in the Wall”, tell us that they, “don’t need no education.”  Despite the double negative, we know what they mean.

What does the double negative offer us in the language of love? 

When spoken, the language of love—an ideal, an intangible, an inkling, a best guess—is just as muddled without the double negative, often expressed in metaphor.  It seems that’s all we have.

Given the titular clues, it appears as if Bernett is praying to love, wanting to love, but simply cannot—for whatever reason.  The double negative seems only to affirm the negative.  But why call the poem a prayer?  The “not not” refrain makes the poem appear as a song—psalm-like?  There is a lament in the first half.  It is the “knot of not wanting” that is squeezing the poem’s teller.  The teller seems to want a different state.  In the state of “not”—not not wanting, not not knocking, not not touching—the opposite is desired.

At the poem’s turn, the “not not loses its cachet” and the double negative begins to affirm something positively.  Love, perhaps? 

So, look at that special someone, maybe as you read this poem, and revel in the riddle.  Stop solving.  Enjoy the mystery.  Bernett’s poem, in its last two lines, lets us know that love is not about thinking.  Take a look—and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love is…hmm?  Grab some Shakespeare, Neruda, or some original verse and let us know on Twitter @sjvlit or @RyanRLatini