St. Valentine save me from goopy love poetry.
Setting aside the problems I have with most greeting card poems—roses could be yellow, if you only like the fellow, and violets aren’t blue, they’re purple, but the only thing that really rhymes with purple is “nurple,” and holy crows, no—I’m also starting to rethink the classics.
You know the ones. Everybody knows the ones.
It’s not that I don’t admire Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese but number 43 gets trotted out every single stinking February, like it’s the only poem on earth, and I’m tired to the depths my soul can reach of counting the ways over and over and over again.
Not to mention comparing my love to a summer’s day (#18) or contrasting wires to hairs or skin to cow pies (#130), for that matter. I’ve told you before, members of the Association of Gorgeously Voiced British Actors (and/or audiobook producers who hire from the AGVBA to read for you): William Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets. Pick. Another. One.
Don’t get me wrong—I still adore John “Break of Day” Donne and Claude “Flower of Love” McKay, but I’ve shared my favorites from those two gentlemen, already.
This year, I searched out poems that would tell me how it is—not how wishful
drinking thinking tells me how it’s supposed to be— and still give me hope.
(Tony Hoagland, © 2003)
She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It’s six-thirty in the morning
and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,
windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she’s trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.
She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
because it wasn’t there.
No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands upon the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it.
Thank you, Mr. Hoagland. The eye-rolling fondness is unmistakable, and the realism of the second verse is perfection. And the last two lines alone say all one really needs to know about love, don’t they?
It worries my husband that this next one has long been a favorite of mine, though I told him I’d never want to slay a Jabberwocky or eat quince with a runcible spoon, and I know the color of his eyes, so we’re probably okay.
The rest of Ms. Hazelton’s work is just as good. Her collection, Vow, was a gift to myself last year and I suggest you wait until Amazon restocks (!!) because they’ve nearly sold out (!!!) and see for yourself.
This next one may not seem like an everyday sort of poem, but I think it’s the perfect portrait of a poet in love and making love and creating poetry from that love, and really working at both, because both are hard work and totally, totally worth it.
(Audre Lorde © 1997)
it is easier to work
after our bodies
paper and pen
neither care nor profit
whether we write or not
but as your body moves
under my hands
charged and waiting
we cut the leash
you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
writes into your flesh
you make of me.
Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
Of course, if there’s one thing that history has taught us, it’s that writers often love too well and not too wisely . . . but when we get right down to it, whom exactly do we writers really want for their valentine?
And to what lengths will we go to woo our as-of-yet-unrequited darling?
sweet reader, flanneled and tulled
(Olena Kalytiak Davis © 2003)
Reader unmov’d and Reader unshaken, Reader unseduc’d
and unterrified, through the long-loud and the sweet-still
I creep toward you. Toward you, I thistle and I climb.
I crawl, Reader, servile and cervine, through this blank
season, counting—I sleep and I sleep. I sleep,
Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf
flinch. Bare-faced, flint-hearted, recoilless
Reader, dare you—Rare Reader, listen
and be convinced: Soon, Reader,
soon you will leave me, for an italian mistress:
for her dark hair, and her moon-lit
teeth. For her leopardi and her cavalcanti,
for her lips and clavicles; for what you want
to eat, eat, eat. Art-lover, rector, docent!
Do I smile? I, too, once had a brash artless
feeder: his eye set firm on my slackening
sky. He was true! He was thief! In the celestial sense
he provided some, some, some
(much-needed) relief. Reader much-slept with, and Reader I will die
without touching, You, Reader, You: mr. small-
weed, mr. broad-cloth, mr. long-dark-day. And the italian mis-
fortune you will heave me for, for
her dark hair and her moonlit-teeth. You will love her well in-
to three-or-four cities, and then, you will slowly
sink. Reader, I will never forgive you, but not, poor
cock-sure Reader, not, for what you think. O, Reader
Sweet! and Reader Strange! Reader Deaf and Reader
Dear, I understand youyourself may be hard-
pressed to bare this small and un-necessary burden
having only just recently gotten over the clean clean heart-
break of spring. And I, Reader, I am but the daughter
of a tinker. I am not above the use of bucktail spinners,
white grubs, minnow tails. Reader, worms
and sinkers. Thisandthese curtail me
to be brief: Reader, our sex gone
to wildweather. YesReaderYes—that feels much-much
better. (And my new Reader will come to me empty-
handed, with a countenance that roses, lavenders, and cakes.
And my new Reader will be only mildly disappointed.
My new Reader can wait, can wait, can wait.) Light-
minded, snow-blind, nervous, Reader, Reader, troubled, Reader,
what’d ye lack? Importunate, unfortunate, Reader:
You are cold. You are sick. You are silly.
Forgive me, kind Reader, forgive me, I had not intended to step this quickly this far
back. Reader, we had a quiet wedding: he&I, theparson
&theclerk. Would I could, stead-fast, gracilefacile Reader! Last,
good Reader, tarry with me, jessa-mine Reader. Dar-
(jee)ling, bide! Bide, Reader, tired, and stay, stay, stray Reader,
true. R.: I had been secretly hoping this would turn into a love
poem. Disconsolate. Illiterate. Reader,
I have cleared this space for you, for you, for you.
That sounds about right.
And, yes, you must buy all of Ms. Davis’ stuff, too—was there any question?
Okay . . . so what’s your favorite poem about love?*
*That isn’t a limerick about a small island thirty miles south of Cape Cod? ‘Cause I know you people . . .
Windchime image by Seneca184 via WikiMedia Commons