or Three for One…
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I’m sure most of the regular readers of this blog would have guessed that in honor of the biggest card holiday of the year, I have a selection of poems to present. All are in honor of my lovely wife Janet, although not all of them may have been written during the time that we actually knew each other. For poetic purposes I have held a theory that throughout one’s life one strives to find the one for whom one is intended. If I can find it before I have to post this, I have a poem on that subject. However, as it is freezing in the house today (I’m creating this post on Thursday, several days in advance, and if you recall, here in Iowa we only had a high of maybe 18°; last weekend I purchased a a battery-operated alarm clock—shaped like an egg—which happens to include a thermometer feature, and the thermometer is telling me that here in the north- and west-facing office it’s only 54° at noon) and it’s nearly time to eat my lunch, I may never find the time to locate that poem for this Valentine’s Day.
As I’ve already noted, this is a holiday notorious for its connection with cards. Many times in my life I felt positive the only reason this holiday existed was so the Hallmark company could make a profit. After all we are trained socially from childhood to buy and exchange cards on 14th of February. Don’t we all remember those days in elementary school, making your own cute little Valentine card box, ensuring that you bought a Valentine for everyone in your class, nervously wondering if that certain someone would have something special for you—as you did for him/her, and being ultimately depressed at the mediocre take of standardized card wishes you carted home?
And although I guess our economy needs consumers, normally I resent being reduced to that role—pretty much, I’m afraid, to Janet’s chagrin. This year, however, she is getting a card: a lovely, magical monkey card. From the Hallmark company. And for you, gentle readers, some of (what I think of as) her poems… Based on the assumption that people generally read only the first part of blogs I’ll put the best poem first.
Come, my love, and sail with me
east across the wide Atlantic
through white mists and stormy seas
to where the sun shines bright all day
in languid gardens, on walls of cool mosaic
to that warm and lapidary land
of somnolent enchantments,
where the sun slips huge
into the goldmirror ocean
turning golden, ruby, purple-red
as metalfiling stars spark a velvet sky;
where liquid-darkeyed poets sing through
idle afternoons and oil the evening
with cool resinous black wines
in domed halls beneath the reeling constellations
and celebrate the deaths of heroes
in words of moist, sweet breath.
Fly, my love, away with me, windwild
to distant longlost dreaming Sepharad.
Sepharad, land of dates and mystery.
8 March 1981
This is probably the first poem I ever wrote with Janet in mind. Although we had met two years earlier during rehearsals for Peace Pipe Players’ Play It Again, Sam, no sparks had flown between us. Now it was time to begin Romantic Comedy, and this time things would be different. Decidedly different.
The “Sepharad” reference arises from my favorite reading at the time. I’m planning a post on this for some day in the future so I won’t go much into it now, but for about five to ten years I got deeply interested in Judaism. “Sepharad” is the traditional Hebrew/Jewish name for Spain, and Jews to this day whose families descend from originally Spanish or North African roots are called Sephardic; those of European origin are Ashkenazim. Since the majority of my siblings have either throughout their careers or at least temporarily taught Spanish, and since I have never been there, Spain has always seemed to me a land of magic and mystery. And romance. In fact, I even have plans for a fantasy series—sword-and-sorcery stuff—set in an alternative Middle Ages, featuring a Talmudic scholar and a wandering Norseman adventuring in Moorish Sepharad.
Clearly the poem owes a lot to late Renaissance English love poems of the let’s-get-away-from-the-big-city-and-have-a-bucolic-good-time variety. Scholars call it “pastoral poetry.” There’s a John Donne poem in particular that I know was echoing in the vaults of my unconscious when I wrote this, but the Christopher Marlowe poem accessible in the link above is more obvious.
… And our post has gotten remarkably long already. However I think we still have time for yet one more poem, and I guess I’ll save the others I had in mind for another day. (Janet does, after all, have a birthday coming up in just nine more days.)
This next poem came during the evening of the day that we went together to the Maquoketa Caves—me for the very first time, even though I’d lived in Jackson County for four years by then. It was a great day and we had a lot of fun and I hope it shows in this not particularly deep set of reminiscences. I’m not even sure she’s ever seen this poem, and I’m not sure you should either, but it’s nice.
The clash of waters in cavedark damp unbuckles our hands
roofrock heavy threatens fall
water pools and drips, runs on rock
electric light in airy pools
sunspots brighter penetrate through holes.
She remembers walking through these grottoes, green and scarpy,
looking for flowers I’ve never seen
to call by names she heard with girlish ears
when love by lovers’ work snickered into windy ashes.
I dream of Saturn, like an ember polished, etched,
ringed in goldencoated metal
pinned on the darkness, and of Antares:
Broken monads pierced the outer darkness, everything there is,
sensible souls sliding sidebyside
in perfect time like isolate atomic clocks.
She labels all the scattered flowers, sits upon a log,
and I collect my random thoughts on her.
Wind shuffles the leaves, sends smoke aloft in moving tangles
frozen Diet Dr Pepper foams and sprays
cruising carbound home by radio
sunwashed afternoon enlarging
After a day at the Maquoketa Caves with Janet
7 July 1981
The indented portions are supposed to go with the line above each time and not be separate stanzas. Unfortunately the blockquote command automatically inserts a space above and below each indentation. Aside from that, this is her poem. It holds my memories, but maybe there’s something for the rest of you as well.
And now just one more before closing, a sonnet. Consider it a bonus…
Nocturne for Two
Allow me, loving, lovely love you:
let us taste wonder under wet trees
spangled with raindrops; in dew
grasses tickling our thighs and knees
as distant moon laughs through leaves
and branches disguise the hesitant stars.
We shall breathe as the wet wind breathes—
lunar triumphant; the air will be ours,
thunderous with lightning in damson skies,
pounding bloodpowerful behind our eyes
as coy stars burn certain: musical cries
will thrust through us, warm softening sighs.
Allow me loving love you lovely
in the night, warm and thick as honey.
Happy Ultimate Card Holiday, everyone. Check us out again, here, tomorrow.