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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

I’m a stickler about thank-you notes, a real pain to my children after birthdays and Christmas, and self-righteous and judgey when my own presents aren’t acknowledged. And yet, as with other deep and firmly-held beliefs, I can be a hypocrite about applying the rules to myself. Which is all to confess that I haven’t sent a proper thank-you note for a very thoughtful gift I got from two friends, a gift apropos of nothing, a few months back.

 

Down in the French Quarter of New Orleans, my friends came upon a Poet for Hire. Give her a subject, a few minutes and twenty bucks and she’ll hand you a poem on parchment paper in green ink. Here’s the poet, a recent New Orleans transplant named Shannon, at work:

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This is Shannon when she’s finished:

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And here’s Shannon’s creation, the present I mentioned, an ode to Poem Elf:

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(Apologies to the poet for messing with her poem by covering up my name at the end.)

 

I’m not going to analyze such a sweet gift, but I do want to mention two things:

1.  The opening line

You seek your secret pleasure

could belong to anyone, but I’m glad that in this case it refers to leaving poems for strangers and not to sniffing men’s socks or to ursusagalmatophilia.

 

2.  Speaking of strange desires, Shannon has revealed my Poem Elf fantasy without ever having met me. She instructs the person who finds her poem

Keep it in your pocket until you return

home–you unfold it slowly

as to not break it.

Place it in the frame

 

I hate to quibble with a gal who’s paying the rent by writing poetry, but I do have a correction. The only person framing this poem will be me. I won’t part with it.

 

Thank you, Kelly and Michelle! I adore this present!

 

 

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Last Saturday morning I participated in a breast cancer walk. The night before, I leafed through my poem stash to pick out a few to take with me, and it was then that I realized that a blog post on breast cancer should include my own health history.

 

I felt uneasy about that for a few reasons.

 

First because I’ve never mentioned on this blog that I’ve had breast cancer (ten years ago last fall). Okay, way back in a post about a William Henry Davies’ poem, I did mention that I have no breasts, but I tend to wear my “survivor” status like I wear my underwear–hidden from view unless you are my husband or doctor, but always there, close to the skin, a foundation, necessary to me if undesirable.

 

The other reason I was hesitant to do a breast cancer post was because the day was about my friend, the woman I walked to support, not about my own bad memories. I wanted to choose poems to celebrate her strength, acknowledge her ordeal, boost her confidence in her own good health. But the  poems I picked were personal to me and I can’t hide that.

 

The funny thing was, out of our group of ten walkers, I discovered that four of us have had cancer and (mostly) didn’t know the others did. So as much as the day was about Lisa, it ended up being about all of us, the survivors and the friends who helped, the women who didn’t survive and broke our hearts, the women and men whose hearts were broken, the strangers we met along the way. (Hello, Deb from Delaware with your chic post-chemo hair!) We walked in solidarity and friendship. I hope the poems reflect our shared experience more than just my own.

 

That said, the first poem I left was the most personal of all. When I arrived at the walk, I had a moment alone. My heart was full of friends I’ve lost to cancer. I left a poem to honor them: “Jewels in My Hand” by Sasha Moorsom which I taped to a lamppost by the entrance to the zoo, where the walk was held.

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To Beth and Christine (breast cancer), to Barb, (lung cancer), and to Kim, (jaw cancer), you are my jewels, as precious to me now as you were when I was lucky enough to know you on this earth.

All the ravages of time they can withstand

Like talismans their grace keeps me from harm

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At the walk starting point I left “New Every Morning” by Susan Coolidge.

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poem is on lamppost

This wonderful little poem is almost a prayer, and one I turned to many times during treatment and post-treatment anxiety. Maybe someone who needed a little hope took the poem home. For everyone else, it’s a great one to memorize, because how often do we need to hear this:

Take heart with the new day and begin again.

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On the railing of the penguin house I left Rita Dove’s “Pastoral.”

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I left it in celebration of breasts, how beautiful, how wonderful they are, giving food and pleasure to others.

 

I love this description of a nursing baby:

Like an otter, but warm,

she latched onto the shadowy tip

and I watched, diminished

by those amazing gulps.

 

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For women who have had breasts “diminished” in ways much worse than breastfeeding, I brought an excerpt from an Afanasy Fet poem. I left it near a peacock. My picture doesn’t capture the beauty of this bird, but I hope the poem reminds women of the beauty they have, no matter what surgery has done to their bodies.

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Losing breast tissue doesn’t make you less whole or less beautiful, or as Fet puts it,

All, all that once was mine is mine forever.

 

(Sorry I can’t provide a link to the complete poem. I found it in a little book of Russian poetry my sister gave to me. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere online.)

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Near a flock of flamingoes, some of them skittering along in a kind of flying run, I left a famous couplet of Andrew Marvell’s:

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poem is on fence post

 

This one is for everyone, to make use of the precious little time we have.

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Finally, I left “For Friendship” by Robert Creeley on a trashcan and asked Lisa’s group, “The Pink Honeybees,” to link arms as they passed by the poem.

poem is on trashcan

poem is on trashcan

This, the gift of suffering, any suffering:

to be bound to 

others, two by two

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When I was rushing to take this picture, I whacked my shin on a park bench, and came home with a bruise the size of my old breasts. (They weren’t very big for breasts, but the bruise was big for a bruise.) So here I am, bruised but glad to be bruised, like so many of the people at the walk that day.

 

Cheers to Lisa!

Cheers to Joi, Patty, Deb from Delaware.

Cheers to all the survivors who walked that day.

And a special cheers to those who walked beside, to those who form the chain that holds.

 

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Every Valentine’s Day I brainstorm for places that romantically-inclined or romantically-averse folks might congregate as they prepare for the holiday or prepare to avoid it. In the past I’ve left love poems in a chocolate store, post office, senior citizen’s home, a food court, a lonely-looking motel, the floral department of a grocery store. Now in my fourth year of Valentine’s Day poem-elfing, I think I need a location scout.

Here’s where this year’s crop of love poems landed:

 

At Victoria’s Secret, nestled in between the pink thongs and the pink brassieres, I left Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII,” a poem which speaks of loving someone “in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

 

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

 

Funny that we used to call ladies’ underwear “intimates.” Victoria’s Secret intimates, however sexy, are no match for Neruda’s brand. The intimacy he’s after can’t be manufactured or marketed or purchased. He writes of a passionate love

so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand

so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

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I left Carl Sandberg’s “At a Window” on a stranger’s window at a transportation center.

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poem is on white car’s windshield

 

 

Presumably the stranger will return to the car after work, and I hope this universal wish for companionship and love is a balm and not an irritant:

…leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.

 

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A Greyhound bus station seemed like a fine place for the decidedly unsentimental “First Love” by one of my favorites, Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

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poem is on white wall in foreground

 

 

First love, says Szymborska,

does what all the others still can’t manage:

unremembered,

not even seen in dreams,

it introduces me to death.

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Valentine’s Day is a great day to celebrate the love of friends. I taped Robert Frost’s “A Time to Talk” to the sign outside a neighborhood bar, always a good place for friends to gather.

 

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poem is on oval sign just under the small red oval on the right-hand side

 

 

In this age of distraction and shortened attention spans, what better way to show affection than setting aside your hoe, whatever your hoe may be (no naughty jokes, please) and taking time “for a friendly visit“?

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For anyone sadder but wiser who might need retail therapy on Valentine’s Day, I left “I Have Come to the Conclusion” by Nelle Fertig in the Macy’s purse department:

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poem is on the mirror

 

 

 

(Excuse the typos in the poem I left–too late for corrections.)

Fertig’s version of love is more cynical than my own. But I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have “broken a few/ very fine mirrors.”

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Finally, I left an excerpt from Roy Croft’s “Love” near my husband’s office outside a restaurant he likes. But he was out of town, so he’ll only see the poem here.

 

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poem is on lamp post

 

 

The restaurant is frequented by middle-aged couples and singles looking to be coupled, people old enough to appreciate what’s under the surface, who can understand the beauty of what Fertig expresses here.

 

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If none of these poems suit your mood or situation, take a look past Valentine poem-elfing in 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

And spread love! Everyone has it, everyone needs it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

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poem is underneath the picture of the woman eating an apple

poem is underneath the picture of the woman eating an apple

The Same Inside

by Anna Swir

 

Walking to your place for a love feast

I saw at a street corner

an old beggar woman.

 

I took her hand,

kissed her delicate cheek,

we talked, she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind,

I sensed this instantly

as a dog knows by scent

another dog.

 

I gave her money,

I could not part from her.

After all, one needs

someone who is close.

 

And then I no longer knew

why I was walking to your place.

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Once at a party I met a woman and very quickly something strange happened. We formed a connection so immediate and palpable that I look back on it a year later with wonder.

 

We didn’t have anything in common as far as I could tell. She was a gentle person, ladylike even, very different than me. I’m told I sometimes have an edge. She was well-dressed and perfectly groomed, two phrases that will only apply to me when I’m laid out in my coffin.

 

I’m sure we fielded questions, trying to figure out why we felt this remarkable connection. Sometimes you meet people and your brains connect, or your experiences connect, or your senses of humor, your interests, the way you look at things. This was none of those. We just understood each other. Or as poet Anna Swir puts it

 

she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind

 

We stayed together much of the evening. We didn’t talk about anything important or intimate, and yet our bond felt important and intimate. The most tender parts of us recognized each other and responded with sympathy. It sounds romantic but it wasn’t. It wasn’t exactly like friendship either. I liked her very much and felt easy and graceful with her but I didn’t expect to see her much afterwards. I can’t describe it to you. It sounds made up or silly. But I tell you, it was as real as the chair I’m sitting in.

 

I thought about that evening for a long time after, and then I didn’t run into her again and the seasons changed and I forgot about it. This poem made me remember.

 

“The Same Inside” is simple and surreal at the same time. A woman sets out to meet her lover. She meets instead a panhandler. Then she has no need of the lover. She’s had something better:

 

After all, one needs

someone who is close.

 

I don’t want to pick apart this poem in my usual fashion. It’s so exquisite, I feel as though my clumsy fingers would mess it up.

 

Let me just say that I love how Anne Swir (and her excellent translator Czeslaw Milosz) sounds so natural on the page. This poem is at least fifty years old and probably much older, but it feels fresh. I read it over and over, marveling at how she does it. Her words are simple, her style unaffected, her voice full of heart. I’m beginning to think this enchanting combination of effortlessness and soulfulness is a Polish trait–I hear Anna Kamienska and Wislawa Symborska here—this wonderful ability to speak from the heart without sounding overly sentimental. Swir connects with readers in the same way she connects with the beggar woman—with a marked absence of irony and guardedness.

 

I left the poem in a spot where a man in a wheelchair panhandles a few times a week. Delbert McCoy, a burn victim, collects money in an old Pringles can outside Rite Aid, hands out candy, and once in a while sells copies of his book, Still on Fire. Delbert was trapped in a nightclub fire in his youth and has endured dozens of surgeries to survive and repair the damage to his body. He looks nothing like the able-bodied suburbanites who pass by him on the way to the drugstore: his skin is mottled, his face disfigured, and his arms end in stumps instead of hands. Even so, his humanity shines through his wise and kind eyes. His gentle presence is a reminder that, appearances to the contrary, we are all the same inside.

 

ImageAnna Swir (Świrszczyńska)was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1909. Her family was poor but artistic. Her father was a painter, her mother a former singer. Swir worked from the time she was young, and paid her way through university where she studied medieval Polish literature.

 

She worked as a waitress during WWII and began writing for underground journals. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, she joined the resistance. I read that she was arrested at one point during the war and told she would be executed in an hour, but I can’t find any details of her reprieve. During the bloody Warsaw Uprising (in which Poles attempted to liberate the city), she worked as a military nurse.

 

Although she began publishing poetry in the thirties, her poems weren’t available in English until the late seventies. In addition to writing poetry, she wrote children’s plays and directed a children’s theater. She lived in Krakow until her death from cancer in 1984.

 

If anyone has more information about her (there’s not much on the web) or has had a similar bonding experience to mine, please share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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poem is on interior glass wall of bus stop

poem is on interior glass wall of bus stop

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind

by William Shakespeare

 

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.

 

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,

That dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…

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I was going to start this post with “Polar vortex, meet Mr. Shakespeare.”  But after looking over my pictures, I’m going with, “Polar vortex, meet Bridget.”

 

Bridget is the woman who was waiting for the bus when I put Shakespeare’s poem “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” in the bus shelter.

 

I entered the bus shelter a little embarrassed. (My typical reaction to poem-elfing.)  “Excuse me,” I told the woman standing inside, as if I had barged into a private residence. “I leave poems around town, and I just want to take a picture of this one.”

 

I asked her how she was bearing up in the cold, and she said, “It’s fine!  I’m just waiting and singing,” she said.

 

Now, don’t be deceived by the sunshine in the picture. This was a bitterly cold day. The sub-zero temperatures had closed schools, kept plumbers busy and most people indoors.   The inside of the bus shelter was protected from the wind, but it was still no summer picnic. And there was Bridget singing. Singing!

 

She told me she was singing church songs. “Hallelujah, My God,” I think she said.

 

I felt a little ridiculous, my poem-elfing a fool’s errand.  Anyone singing praise to God on the coldest day of the year didn’t need Shakespeare to tell her winter’s not so bad.

 

Shakespeare’s poem is actually meant to be sung too, but it’s not exactly a tune for Maria von Trapp to brave her way through a thunderstorm.  It’s dark and cynical, better suited to Liz Lemon than Maria. The song is from Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.” A character named Lord Amiens sings “Blow, Blow” to a duke who’s been living in the woods because he’s been usurped by his younger brother.  Also listening to the song is a starving young man named Orlando who’s been betrayed and driven out of his kingdom by his older brother.   Both the duke and Orlando have found friendship and love to be “feigning“ and “folly.” And yet before and after this bitter little poem is sung, the two men conduct themselves with great kindness. Orlando will not eat until his elderly companion Adam eats.  The duke feeds the starving men and ends the scene with this gentleness:  “Give me your hand/And let me all your fortunes understand.”

 

So it’s all of a piece.  The sting of bad weather hurts less than the sting of a bad friend; the sting of a bad friend is offset by the kindness of good ones.

 

And this is Michigan, so if you don’t like the weather, as the old joke goes, wait a few minutes.

 

Or take a cue from Bridget and sing your way through it.  (If you need a little help in that department, here’s a version of “Blow, Blow,” the least stuffy one I could find.)

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The great Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died, only 74 years old.  Obituaries characterize him as a rock star among poets, and that was my experience of him, long before I had even read his poems.

 

Years ago I went to hear him read at the University of Michigan with a dear friend.  This was so long ago that I can’t remember if she was at the time a dear friend or if I just had a suspicion that she would be my dear friend and this outing cemented the relationship.  That Heaney was Irish was what drew us to the theater that night and what drew us together, at least initially.  Beth, Irish herself, was married to a native Irishman, and I was from a family Irish enough to go to ceilidhs and look down on anyone who didn’t.

 

That night I was struck how Heaney commanded the kind of respect from the audience that priests and bishops used to receive.  He had a grand presence and a wily humor.  I didn’t understand a single poem he read—they were too dense, too thick in language for me to take in without reading them slowly—but I fell in love with him that night.  If only from the audience’s wild enthusiasm, I knew I had listened to a great poet. My friend and I marveled over him all the ride home. Yes, thinking back now, I believe the reading was at the beginning of our friendship.  Irish dancing lessons would soon follow; years later, her illness and death.

 

Heaney will always be part of my memory of her.  His death brings its own sadness, but hers along with it.

 

Heaney has too many poems I loved to include here.  To me he always wrote movingly about the emotions of childhood, the deep pain and the deep love a child can feel.  I’ll just post two in that vein.  The first, a sonnet about an early memory of his mother that comes to him on her deathbed:

 

Clearances III

 

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

 

The second is about the death of his little brother, how Heaney came home from boarding school for the funeral.  I tear up every time I read it, and I’ve read it dozens of times over the years.

 

Mid-Term Break

 

I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close.

At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

 

In the porch I met my father crying–

He had always taken funerals in his stride–

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

 

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram

When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

 

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble,’

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,

Away at school, as my mother held my hand

 

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.

At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived

With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

 

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops

And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

 

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,

He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

 

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

 

 

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney, and Beth too.

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I was just at the post office mailing my Valentine’s Day cards, and there I met the friendliest woman on the planet.  In five minutes’ conversation we covered the Pope’s resignation, all the Charlie Brown characters we could remember, her favorite candies, recent films we’ve seen, and who she’s sending Valentine cards to.  After a while I asked her,  “Are you always so friendly?”  “Yes,” she said, “I have to be.  Every day is a gift, that’s how I look at it.”  She told me her husband died two years ago.  “And look at me,” she said, “I’m pretty young for that.”

 

She’s on my mind, that bubbly stranger.  I don’t know her name but I dedicate this Valentine’s Day post to her.  She lost the love of her life but she hasn’t lost love.

 

So here’s my annual Valentine’s Day poem-spending spree:

 

Costco had a jewelry booth for Valentine’s Day and that seemed like a good place to leave Ogden Nash’s “A Word to Husbands.”

poem is on display table above the apostrophe

poem is on display table above the apostrophe

 

Whenever you’re right, shut up” is excellent advice for any lover, not just husbands.

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Pottery Barn was selling a few Valentine’s Day gifts by the register.  When the salesperson’s back was turned, I folded up “24th September 1945” by Nazim Hikmet and stuffed it in the silver heart box.

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Hikmet was a Turkish poet and wrote the poem in prison.  In spite of the date in the title, the poem is timeless, and a good one for lovers who hope that the happiest days are still ahead.  

before I folded it up

before I folded it up

 

On a little path that runs by a creek, a woman I’ve never seen leaves quirky arrangements of twigs, flowers, rocks, pinecones, leaves and whatever else is nearby.  She does her work in secret and so do I.  As a way of introducing myself to her, I left Nikki Giovanni’s “A Poem of Friendship” by one of her “installations” that wasn’t covered by snow.

poem is to the left of the pole

poem is to the left of the pole

 

It rained heavily the night after I left this poem, so I hope it’s still there for nature lovers to find on a romantic or platonic stroll.

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Teenagers have so many ways to be miserable and so many ways of hiding that misery. I left Jack Gilbert’s “The Abandoned Valley” at the entrance of a local high school as a reminder that Valentine’s Day is a great holiday to reach out to people who are lonely.

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door

poem is the little white square to the right of the furthest righthand door

 

The image of a well might not be familiar to today’s high schoolers, but “being alone so long” is to most.

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Allan Ginsburg found Walt Whitman in the grocery store, so I figured he might belong in the drug store too.  I put Whitman’s poem “As Adam Early in the Morning” on a shelf  at Rite Aid loaded with diet products.

poem is on middle shelf in front of Alli

poem is on middle shelf in front of alli

 

“Be not afraid of my body” says Whitman, and I hope dieters won’t be afraid of their own.  No one should have to buy a product that makes them shit in their pants just to get someone to love them or so they can love themselves.  No body type is unlovable!

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For years poet Ted Kooser sent out postcards with a new poem every Valentine’s Day.  One of them, “For You, Friend,” I left at a candy store.

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

poem is in lower right corner of the side right windows

lovely Judy will help you

lovely Judy will help you

 

If anyone’s looking for the best chocolate on the planet and you live near Inkster, Michigan, this is the place for you.

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Finally, I left a Valentine poem for my own valentine in pretty much the same place I left one last year, outside his office:

poem is to left of Comerica sign

poem is on window to left of Comerica sign

 

For you, dearest heart, Robert Bly’s “A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other.”

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Spread some love!

 

 

 

 

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