between the lines: can I tell you something?
Can I Tell You Something?
Can I tell you something?
About my hands in another’s hair
Or the way he wound himself around me
Sticking like a snake bite in my skin
Shards of glass in soft gums
A popcorn kernel under a tooth
Love will fester like an unchecked wound
And I will let it kill me
If only to have an hour of his time
If only to be able to say
Can I tell you something?
About his hands in mine, this time
And the way he slid through my fingers
Though we were close enough to touch
Still separated by a thousand yards of glass
And a barbed wire fence in the creased sheet
Where might that leave you?
In my furious, white water wake
You loved me enough to drown
But I love him enough to let him hold my head under the water.
Analysis by Justin Tabbett
‘Can I Tell You Something?’ answers its own question. Exploring old love, new love, and how love is tearing our guiding voice apart, yet at the same time participating in this destruction. No clearer is this seen than in the final two lines. They are poignant, they reinforce the visceral imagery that precedes them, in those two lines is all the understanding one could hope for regarding the question, but there is a difference in one drowning, and one allowing oneself to drown.
Returning to the beginning of the poem, we are posed the titular question. It seems simple and innocent enough, conveying a gentleness and a sense of vulnerability, and we are led to believe this as we are given an insight to a private and intense moment. Yet in saying yes, answering with our eyes as we read the next line, we are met with images that range from implications of death to mundane inconvenience dressed in lust. We are given the first perspective of how our voice views love.
What follows next is an almost cynical depiction of love, a love in which sacrifice plays a leading role. I think herein lies one of the most relatable moments of the poem, raising in us the question: what would you do for love? Or what you thought was love. What would you give? We are barely given time to think of a response before we are thrown into the titular question again.
This time, when the question is asked, seemingly all feeling of innocence is gone. Answering yes again, we are given a view of loss, of almost having, but this time we are faced with a contrast of images. Previously glass was used to instil a feeling of pain and discomfort, whereas here glass is used almost as a form of self-preservation – close enough to touch //
still separated. What would happen if this love were able to actualise itself? If it were able to climb across the beautiful image of a barbed wire fence in the creased sheet.
The poem shifts here. We leave behind the titular question. This new question carrying a genuine sentiment of care, although it feels answered already. Asking what happens after love, having seen the effect of a type of love resting somewhere between affection and obsession. We are given hints to the wider narrative present in the poem, with our imagination left to fill in the gaps. It is in this personal interpretation of the narrative that we find meaning and character to the voice.
Consider the you in the poem. It would be presumptuous to suggest that a poem was ever written for someone else other than the poet, but if the you is not directed at us, ‘Can I Tell You Something?’ takes on an entirely different tone. You having drowned for love, and being asked if they would like to know, is questionable. However, it could be an attempt to empathise with You, to understand what one goes through. It is here that I feel the poem answers its own question – a provocative exploration of what we do for love, what we do to bring it close, and keep it there. ‘Can I Tell You Something?’ harnesses images that sink into your mind, and leaves you with questions that stay with you.