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poem is on post on the left

 

 

My Life Before I Knew It

by Lawrence Raab

 

I liked rainy days

when you didn’t have to go outside and play.

At night I’d tell my sister

there were snakes under her bed.

When I mowed the lawn I imagined being famous.

Cautious and stubborn, unwilling to fail,

I knew for certain what I didn’t want to know.

I hated to dance. I hated baseball,

and collected airplane cards instead.

I learned to laugh at jokes I didn’t get.

The death of Christ moved me,

but only at the end of Ben-Hur.

I thought Henry Mancini was a great composer.

My secret desire was to own a collie

who would walk with me in the woods

when the leaves were falling

and I was thinking about writing the stories

that would make me famous.

Sullen, overweight, melancholy,

writers didn’t have to be good at sports.

They stayed inside for long periods of time.

They often wore glasses. But strangers

were moved by what they accomplished

and wrote them letters. One day

one of those strangers would introduce

herself to me, and then

the life I’d never been able to forsee

would begin, and everything

before I became myself would appear

necessary to the rest of the story.

 

 

You have go where you’ve gone to be where you are, I used to tell my kids. It’s a syntactical mess, of course, and maybe that’s why it’s less memorable to them than my other bon mots (Don’t be the drunkest girl at the party and Stay away from porn culture). Thank goodness for poet Lawrence Raab. In “My Life Before I Knew It” he says everything I wanted to tell them about heading off regret and seeing grace at work in your life.

 

I love Lawrence Raab. He’s droll and such a wonderful story-teller that the weightiness of his poems always catches me off guard. The ending of “My Life So Far,” for instance. With the lightest touch and the quickest maneuver, using One day and and then the way a dancer uses pause and pivot, he turns this amusing portrait of an awkward boy towards heart-swooning romance—

 

and then

the life I’d never been able to forsee

would begin, and everything

before I became myself would appear

necessary to the rest of the story.

 

 

This line—The life I’d never been able to forsee—almost makes me burst. Is there a more wondrous experience than to look back on the grubby, embarrassing moments of your life and see that with some invisible magic those moments led you, blind and headstrong as you were, towards the very thing your heart had secretly desired?

 

*

 

Here’s a biography of Raab from a previous post:

 

Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He went to Middlebury College and earned his masters from Syracuse. He’s taught at University of Michigan, American University, and these days at Williams College. He’s one numerous awards and grants and has published seven collections of poetry.

 

Raab has also written screenplays and adapted Aristophanes’ The Birds for theater.

 

 

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photo courtesy of Lisa MacArthur

 

Longtime readers of this blog know that I celebrate February 14th with a Valentines Day Poem Blitz. I try to post poems featuring every kind of love—romantic, platonic, familial, and whatever you call love of the earth. I’ll usually throw in a poem for the broken-hearted as well.

 

This year it’s going to be a little different. This year love seems at once so present (all the beautiful stories of people helping, nurturing, nursing, encouraging, connecting) and at the same time so absent. Pandemic isolation and political division have given love a good thrashing.

 

So I’m going back to basics. This year I’m only working with two “poems” instead of six or seven. They aren’t actually poems at all (although I’ve inserted line breaks for the sake of easy reading}, and they sure aren’t romantic. If you’re looking for romantic verse for your sweetie, this post will be a cold shower of harsh truth. (You’ll find more traditional Valentines Day fare if you search in the side bar on every month of February since 2011, like here for instance.)

 

If I didn’t lose you at “harsh truth,” read on. I had Poem Elf helpers all over the country—east coast, west coast, Midwest—post two quotes from Catholic mystic Thomas Merton. Yes, a celibate, monastic Catholic priest here to tell us all about love. Dr. Ruth he is not, but his words have implications for every kind of love. They inspire me to love better, more deeply, more authentically. I hope they’ll do the same for others.

 

Thanks so much to all the helpers! You are my special Valentines this year.

 

Let’s start with the first quote, posted in a flower shop in northern Michigan by my friend Lisa:

 

 

The beginning of love is the will

to let those we love be perfectly themselves,

the resolution not to twist them to fit

our own image. If in loving them

we do not love what they are,

but only their potential likeness

to ourselves, then we do not love them:

we only love the reflection

of ourselves we find in them.

—Thomas Merton

 

[Note: I deleted a word in the first line because taken out of context, as this quote is, the word “this” is confusing. What Merton actually wrote:  The beginning of this love is the will. . . ]

 

 

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My nephew Beau lives in San Diego and taped the quote to a rail on San Elijo Beach in Cardiff, California.

 

 

 

*

 

Jumping across the country to Vermont, my grand-niece Emma Jane left Merton’s words in the parking lot of Sugarbush ski resort.

 

poem is on the #10 sign

 

 

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Heading south to Washington, D.C., my niece Charlotte taped the poem to a park bench in Logan Square:

 

 

 

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And finally, back to the midwest, where my pal Becca left the poem on a lamppost in snowy Chicago:

 

 

One more from Becca—a very pretty presentation!

 

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Two of my helpers tackled the second quote, which is even less Valentine-y than the first. Buckle up and love on.

 

Michigan Lisa found the perfect spot for this quote—at Walmart, positioned between “Love” and “The Hate U Give”—

 

 

As long as we are on earth,

the love that unites us will bring us suffering

by our very contact with one another,

because this love is the resetting

of a Body of broken bones. Even saints

cannot live with saints on this earth

without some anguish, without

some pain at the differences

that come between them.

 

There are two things

which men can do about the pain

of disunion with other men.

They can love or they can hate.

—Thomas Merton

 

 

*

 

Charlotte also left this one amongst books. Look for it on the lower shelf tucked next to Dan Siva’s book. The books are in the wonderfully named “Miss Pixie’s Antique Store.”

 

 

*

 

Thanks again to Lisa, Beau, Emma Jane, Charlotte and Becca! I am so grateful for your time and creativity and willingness to be an elf.

 

To all my readers, Happy Valentines Day. Let’s love like dogs! . . . like dogs love, that ispurely, unconditionally, affectionately, sloppily.

 

 

 

 

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poem is on park bench

 

Fall

by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

 

So it’s today, and in the chokecherry this year:

the first leaves turn ochre, there, by the open gate.

 

I grab the sweater you left on a chair, wrap it

around my shoulders, and—as I did for days last year

 

until I couldn’t keep up with the season—I pick

every single rusting leaf, each fading flower

 

and hide them in my apron pocket:  their crush

clandestine against my belly. It’s a simple gift

 

for you—for us—such an easy thing to do

for a few more days of summer.

 

 

So it’s today, Laure-Anne Bosselaar begins. “Fall” is a time-sensitive poem that finds me behind schedule.

 

For the past three seasons I’ve had plans to post “Fall” in mid-September but every year November rolls by and the poem remains unattended. So even though the first leaves have long been raked and bagged, I’m giving this poem its long-awaited moment in the sun, there amongst the season’s very last leaves.

 

The voice in “Fall” is effortless, off-hand. It’s as if we’ve caught Bosselaar mid-thought. The poem is addressed to “you,” presumably her lover, but the voice is so friendly it almost seems addressed to us, the readers. She’s talking out loud, spontaneously, before she’s had much time to reflect and refine her inner monologue.

 

On the surface, the image of a woman picking leaves in her yard is simple and charming. To preserve the last bit of summer the speaker removes the first fall leaves from a chokecherry tree. Here is a chokecherry tree

 

 

In one sense, this effort to please her lover is romantic. Fighting the end of summer may be a fool’s errand, but how in love she is, hiding those leaves in her apron pocket, just few at first and then more and more till she can’t keep up. She’s like a woman picking gray hairs from her scalp. More gray is inevitable, but just for the moment, she keeps the illusion of youth.

 

But maybe it’s darker than that.

 

The woman remains on the house side of an opened gate, through which, presumably, her lover has gone. Permanently? Or is he just out for the day? She wears his sweater as if to keep him close.

 

You may think I am being cynical and over-reading the poem, but it is after all, called “Fall,” and the tree in question is a chokecherry tree. Chokecherry—the very word calls up tears held back, strangled emotion, situations that bind. And people, she is picking leaves off a tree. It may be a lovely image, but it’s also straight-up crazy.

 

The jittery dashes and her self-correction of exactly who she is hiding the leaves for—

 

It’s a simple gift

 

for you—for us—such an easy thing to do

 

could suggest a nervousness. Under the breezy tone is there a pleading? Damn you leaves, can’t you let things stay the same? Is her resistance to fall romantic or desperate?

 

And then there’s the apron, that mark of domesticity and homemaking. Perhaps it’s a gardening apron, perhaps for cooking, but either way, an apron protects the one who wears it from soil and splatters. What is she protecting? She is protecting her lover and herself from reality. From death if you come right down to it.

 

Is this her role? To stand between reality and illusion? To mitigate the effects of uncomfortable situations, to soften the edges of bad news? Perhaps this is my own preoccupation that I toss on Bosselaar’s poem, but such a role is a domestic one, and one that women, with our antennae so finely tuned to others’ needs and emotional states, often take on.

 

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Laure-Anne Bosselaar was born in Belgium in 1943. She studied theater at Brussels Conservatory.  As a single mother of three children, she worked in radio and television and taught poetry at an international school in Brussels.

 

In 1987 she moved to the United States. At age 48 she got her MFA from Warren Wilson College. She’s been widely published in literary magazines, earned several prizes and fellowships, and has published four books of poetry. Fluent in four languages, she is also known for her poetry translations. She is the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara.

 

She married poet Kurt Brown who died in 2013. Their collaboration on creative projects and their seemingly happy marriage point to high probability that I’ve mis-read this poem!

 

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All the way from Prague, my youngest daughter Anne Marie spreads the Poem Elf spirit. As you can see, she loves her adopted city; as you can’t see and wouldn’t know, she also loves the word “romantic.” (See her commentary.) We have a running family joke about an awkward card she gave me as years ago in which she wrote about our “fun romantic times together.” (She thought romantic referred to affection and snuggling.) Her understanding of the word has since righted itself, but her chosen street and poem remind me of her open heart, how much I miss her, away now for so long.

Anne Marie notes that František Halas is a Czech poet from a working class family (1901-1949). Short life. I hope he got the love he dreamed of.

 

Confession
by František Halas

Touched by all that love is
I draw closer toward you
Saddened by all that love is
I run from you

Surprised by all that love is
I remain alert in stillness
Hurt by all that love is
I yearn for tenderness

Defeated by all that love is
at the truthful mouth of the night
Forsaken by all that love is
I will grow toward you.

 

 

This is one of my favorite streets in Prague—it’s romantic and exciting and I can’t wait to show it to everyone I love at some point in my life. I always see couples sitting here, so I picked a love poem by a Czech poet. I can’t choose which line grabs me the most because it all rings true in a simple, retrospective way. “Surprised by all that love is I remain alert in stillness” is where I stand now, wondering who it is I’ll bring here.

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poem is on gate door

 

From “A Married State”

by Katherine Philips

 

A married state affords but little ease

The best of husbands are so hard to please.

This in wives’ careful faces you may spell

Though they dissemble their misfortunes well.

 

Someone wrote on Twitter the other day that being in lockdown reminded her of being married. This little excerpt from Katherine Philips’ poem is for all those quarantined with a less-than-perfect housemate.

 

My own housemate is a dear. He is dear even as he follows me around with supportive words on hand washing, although sometimes I have to remind myself of how dear he is when he doesn’t follow me around with supportive words on hand washing.

 

Reader, I wash my hands often and well.

 

You can link to the complete poem here.

 

Katherine Philips (1631/32 – 1664) was an English poet and translator. She was an intelligent child who read the Bible by the time she was four. Her father was a cloth merchant and had her educated at boarding school. She spoke several languages.

 

She was 16 when she married a Welsh landowner and member of Parliament. It was a strange match—he was 38 years older and the son of her mother’s second husband from another marriage. She and her husband (—cough—step-brother) had opposite political positions (her pro-royalist connections saved him from the executioner after King Charles II took the throne), but they seem to have been happy. Important to note that she wrote her sardonic anti-marriage poem in her early teens before she was married.

 

Still, her view of marriage seems jaundiced. When a friend remarried after widowhood, Philips wrote to her, “one may generally conclude the Marriage of a Friend to be the Funeral of a Friendship.”

 

Her husband encouraged her literary endeavors. She wrote over a hundred poems, many on the theme of female friendship which she wrote about in the tropes of courtly love. She translated and staged a play in London and Dublin, the first woman ever to have done so. She was the founder of the Society of Friendship, a literary group that wrote letters and poems to each other. Members of the group addressed each other with nicknames—hers was “The Matchless Orinda.”

 

She had two children. Her son died in infancy. She wrote his tombstone epitaph (in verse) and another poem, “On the Death of My First and Dearest Child, Hector Philips.” In spite of the elegant phraseology, a mother’s raw grief rips through—

 

Tears are my muse, and sorrow all my art,

    So piercing groans must be thy elegy.

 

Those piercing groans. Wow. Lines like that remind me how we are the same in our suffering, century to century, country to country.

 

She died in her early thirties of smallpox.

 

For anyone on Instagram who needs a break from the gloom-and-doom of Covid-19 news, link here and sign up for Wake Up and Dance. Two of my daughters, one in Prague, one in northern Michigan, are collaborating on the videos. They’ll make you smile and maybe even dance yourself. (Instagram name if you’re having trouble with the link: @w.akeupanddance)

 

 

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In Hawaii for another Valentine’s Day—always a good spot for celebrating love, inspiring love and meditating on love. When I’m here my heart nearly bursts open with love for all creation.

 

Yeah, yeah, pretty easy when I’m this far away from routine, news, and winter weather. Regardless, sending love to you, dear readers, and to all my Valentines across the Pacific (and to one across the Atlantic).

 

On with the poem blitzing then:

 

I taped “Some Kiss We Want” by 13th century Persian poet Rumi to a piece of grass at a favorite overlook of mine. Every time I drive by I say, “It never gets old,” and so with a kiss, and so with our human yearning for love.

 

No one marries the spiritual with the physical like Rumi. Just look how he connects the mouth to that union in the last stanza. The mouth brings in breath and spirit, speaks words of love and is rather handy in the act of love itself:

Breath into me. Close

the language-door and open the love-window.

 

 

For a more prosaic but no less love-happy treatment of love, I left British poet Wendy Cope’s “The Orange” in a stack of grocery store (wait for it) oranges.

 

What a wonderful description she gives of being newly in love, how it makes you newly in love with every old thing you never paid attention to before:

And that orange, it made me so happy,

As ordinary things often do

Just lately.

 

I asked my friends, a long-married couple, to be in a picture with an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s “To One in Paradise” while we waited at the airport to move from one Hawaiian isle to another. They wisely questioned the appropriateness of an Edgar Allen Poe poem for a non-Halloween holiday, but were good sports in posing with it.

poem is on window between the smoochers

 

The poem is (unsurprisingly) about a dead lover. But let’s just pretend that the loved one in the poem’s heavenly paradise is a loved one here on the earthly paradise of Hawaii. Then we can enjoy the romance of the beautiful lines and not feel like we’re dragging a decomposing corpse from the crypt to the bedroom.

 

The poem is hard to read in my picture, so I’ll type out the words:

And all my days are trances,

      And all my nightly dreams

Are where thy grey eye glances

     And where thy footstep gleams—

In what ethereal dances,

     By what eternal streams.

 

Speaking of morbid attachments, I do love a good cemetery and was happy to find an unmarked one off a dirt road where I could leave “Love Song” by poet Nancy Wood (1936-2013).

poem is on fence-post in foreground

 

For anyone who’s lost their life’s love, this is for you:

. . . Our holy place is holy still;

     our love is not diminished by absence or by pain.

 

There’s a  high surf warning today on the north shore of Kauai, so it’s a good time to leave “Sonnet LXXV” by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) on the beach, to fulfill its promise of being washed away.

 

Not to be a sourpuss in the candy jar, but it’s funny that for all the flowery promises to make his lover’s name immortal and her virtues rare eternal, Spenser never does mention her name or describe what those virtues are. Seems to me what he really wanted written in the heavens was his poem. Success!

 

For those who haven’t yet found the lover to write their names in the sand much less follow through on a Bumble date, Maya Angelou offers encouragement in this excerpt from “In My Missouri.” I taped it to a telephone pole outside one of the only late-night spots in Hanalei, the famous Tahiti Nuit. (Famous for The Descendants fans, I mean.)

 

The poem begins with the bad men she’s encountered, the mean, cold and hard men. Then she writes, and I love this, I love this for all those who are still looking and need hope—

So I thought I’d never meet a sweet man

A kind man

A true man

One who in darkness you can feel secure man

A sure man

A man.

 

For my own man, my own sure man, I crumpled up Ted Kooser’s “Pocket Poem” and stuck it in his shorts.

 

My husband is notorious for crumpling his scorecard in our euchre group (much to the annoyance of the scorekeeper) so Kooser’s poem is just right. And also these lines, which I feel even now, thirty-two years on (forty if you include the teenage dating years)—

. . . I want to be so close

that when you find it, it is warm from me.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Across the isles and across the aisles, let’s love!

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poem in peony bush

 

Feasting

by Elizabeth W. Garber

 

I am so amazed to find myself kissing you

with such abandon,

filling myself with our kisses

astounding hunger for edges of lips and tongue.

Returning to feast again and again,

our bellies never overfilling from this banquet.

Returning in surprise,

in remembering,

in rediscovering,

such play of flavors of gliding lips

and forests of pressures and spaces.

The spaces between the branches

as delicious as finding the grove of lilies of the valley

blossoming just outside my door under the ancient oak.

“I’ve never held anyone this long,” you said,

the second time you entered my kitchen.

I am the feast this kitchen was blessed to prepare

waiting for you to enter open mouthed in awe

in the mystery we’ve been given,

our holy feast.

 

 

My kids listened to a lot of audio books on our many drives from Michigan to Maryland and while none were so graphic as this poem, there were one or two that we cringed through together along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. One such book, the title and plot lost to us now, had a protagonist preparing for a first kiss by consulting or making up a set of rules. “Rule Number 3,” the narrator announced in a nasally, staccato voice that we have loved to imitate ever since, “mouth—may be —open —or closed.”

 

(If anyone has read this book and knows anything about it, please let me know.)

 

Second-most cringeworthy was the breathy narrator of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret asking God when she would get her period.

 

The point is, as curious as we may be of other people’s intimate lives, we don’t really want to see them up close. My initial reaction to this poem was somewhere between Okay, okay I get it and Turn the camera away, now! All those gliding lips, those edges of lips and tongue, the delicious flavors, the open mouths, the bellies waiting to be filled—it put me in mind of the grandson in The Princess Bride protesting his bedtime story:

 

“Oh no! No! Please!”

“What is it? What’s the matter?”

“They’re kissing again! Do we HAVE to hear the kissing parts?”

 

But that final kiss, when it filled the screen, was so beautiful that the squeamish little boy was won over. As his grandfather says,

 

“Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”

 

And so with this poem. By the third read, the kiss enchanted me. The narrator stands in the kitchen, a man enters, she’s surprised, they kiss. The kiss is dissected into its parts in beautiful imagery that will color my idea of kissing for years to come. And the comparison of a kiss to a holy feast will give this Catholic gal some very interesting thoughts next time she goes to Mass.

 

I left the poem in a bush at the University of Michigan’s peony garden. The peonies were just past peak, spent, slightly deflated, lovers on wrinkled sheets. (Yes, I am trying to make you cringe.)

 

[Side note: In the garden I saw a man with his arms around a tree, his lips nearly touching the bark, seemingly kissing it. I thought, that’s Ann Arbor for you, land of the nuts and the squirrels. I took a picture on the sly, intending to put it in this post. But later I saw the man walking with great difficulty back to the parking lot, dragging his leg and lurching with each step. He needed healing from the tree, not ridicule from me. It was his own holy feast, and I hope he got his what he was after.]

 

Poet Elizabeth Garber grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in a glass house designed by her father, a well-regarded architect who was mentally ill. She wrote a memoir, Implosion, about that time in her life. She’s also published three books of poetry. For thirty years she’s been a practicing acupuncturist in a small coastal town in Maine where she lives with her family.

 

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Young love is sweet to behold, sweeter and sweeter as I grow older. It’s also something of a wonder for a long-married person like me to think back to the beginning—to try to remember—that time—in Septemberwhen love was an emberabout to billow—

 

 

[Earworm alert. . . The Fantasticks is always waiting to be sung.]

 

Back to the Poem-Elfing, which took place at a family wedding last weekend in Washington, D.C. I gave poems to the bride and groom as they got ready. All three poems have been posted here before but they suited this occasion so well I make no apology for the recycling.

 

The first is from poet Fulvia Lupulo, which I stuck in the bridal mirror:

 

The bride looks like she’s painting her nails but she’s actually painting rubber cement on the back of pictures of the groom’s older sister who passed away at age fourteen. I can’t remember what exactly the bride was going to do with the photos, but any bride who spends her pre-wedding primping time on thoughtful gestures like this is beautiful indeed.

 

 

She took a break from doing her sister’s make-up to pose with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

 

These lines may be familiar but they never lose power. So gorgeous.

 

 

I happened upon the groom in the parking lot, pre-tux. I handed him a favorite little love poem and gave him a rushed explanation of why I wanted to take his picture with it. I don’t think he understood what was going on but I like how he holds the poem like like an “I donated blood today” sticker.

 

Do not be astonished at my joy. . . 

 

Congratulations to Jeanne and Anthony! Here’s to young love! May it be old love someday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Valentine’s Day spending is up 6% this year over last even though fewer people are celebrating. Sad!

 

Poems, of course, are the perfect antidote to the menace of all-consuming consumerism slouching towards Bethlehem. Poems cost nothing to give and last forever. Here’s a few to share with your lover, your mother, your friend or even a stranger, why not?

 

I’ll begin with a poem for mothers, Christina Rossetti’s “Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome” which I left near a mailbox.

 

Would that I had use for that mailbox. Would that I still had a mother to send a Valentine’s card to. No stamp, no hugs, no kisses, just an ache to remember her, my first Love, as Rossetti calls her mother, my loadstar while I come and go. Still, this description of a mother’s love is a comfort—

whose blessed glow transcends the laws

  Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

 

 

Fortunately most of my friends are still living and for them I left 19th-century novelist and poet Dinah Maria Craik’s “Friendship.” I taped it to a fencepost enclosing two horses companionably eating grass.

 

Craik uses the image of sifting grain to capture the ease of conversing with a true friend—

Having neither to weigh thoughts,

Nor measure words—but pouring them

All right out—just as they are—

 

 

 

On to the lover’s portion of this post. I put Catherine Doty’s “Yes” on a bench overlooking the ever-romantic Hanalei Bay, just after a heavy downpour.

 

Another kind of downpour is happening in the poem. Blood and nerves and joints and various body parts are overrun with desire. Come/here indeed.

 

 

 

For those without a beloved this Valentine’s Day, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar has you covered with his hopeful “Invitation to Love.” I taped it to a fence on favorite overlook of mine. Waves crash against the cliffs in high spray and red-footed boobies cover the hills like flowers. The lighthouse in the distance works with the poem to create a beacon of hope to those at sea in the world. Yeah, I really like this spot.

 

Dunbar is ready for love anytime, anywhere:

Come when the summer gleams and glows

Come with the winter’s drifting snows,

  And you are welcome, welcome.

 

 

 

“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” might strike you as unromantic, but in poet Galway Kinnell’s hands it becomes most tender and even sensual. I left it on a stop sign, which is probably about as effective in keeping out trespassers as Kinnell’s closed door is at stopping his son from barging in his bedroom.

 

Most parents face this scenario—a kid plopping down between his startled and possibly interrupted parents—but it takes a poet to elevate the interruption into a homecoming of sorts—

this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,

sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,

this blessing love gives again into our arms.

 

 

 

I’ve got two poems for lost love. The first, David Ignatow’s “That’s the Sum of It,” I left in a junkyard.

poem is on white dishwasher with black top 

The loss of his wife and car have put the speaker in a catch-22 situation. The speaker’s tone is light but the ache is always present, like here, when he wishes to visit his children

when they

are not too busy.

 

 

 

The second poem of lost love takes its sweet time getting to the heart of it, touring through Rome and taking in the sights. I left Charlie Smith’s “Crostatas” at a scenic overlook of mountains and taro fields.

poem is on. drone sign

 

He’s one depressed tourist—

flowers like eyeballs dabbed in blood and the big ruins

said do it my way pal

—and the reason becomes clear only in the last lines.

 

 

 

Finally, a Valentine anyone can enjoy, a love poem to the universe. “Dusting,” by Marilyn Nelson, begins with a thank you (in my reading, to the Creator, but take it as you will) and spills over with wonder and joy for life itself, for dust. I left it on a beach a few feet from the ocean where it all begins.

 

Somehow the scientific language makes the poetic sensibility all the more ecstatic—

For algae spores

and fungus spores

bonded by vital

mutual genetic cooperation

 

 

May we all be bonded in mutual genetic cooperation!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

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poem is leaning against veil on bench

 

Song of the Heart

by Cavafy

 

With you, I think, all that is pleasant smiles on me,

in the mirror of your eyes there is reflected joy.

Stay, my light, and still I have not told you even half

of all that presses down upon my heart so amorous,

that rushes to my lips with just a single look from you.

If you wish it, do not speak to me, or say enchanting

words of love and adoration. ‘Tis enough that you’re nearby,

that I tell you that I want you, that I’m near you, that the morning

dew that you breathe in, I breathe in, too; and if you find

that these too are excessive, ‘tis enough I merely see you!

 

 

A few hours before the bride donned this stunning dress, I snuck into her room with “Song of the Heart.” Then I worried. First that somehow the ink from my green Poem Elf stamp would stain the veil, and second that the bride might view the gesture as creepy, her prurient aunt trying to stoke the marital fires with a poem equal parts smoldering and romantic. I was like those old ladies at bridal showers of yore, holding up peignoir sets and lacy teddies, exclaiming to all with a laugh and a knowing wink, “Oh, won’t he enjoy these!” Forgive us old aunties. We love young love.

 

Anyway I needn’t have worried. The bride loved the poem and thought it “a perfect match” for her own perfect match. Indeed it was, even though she and her husband are private people not given to public displays, a couple whose emotions are less likely to be announced than unmasked by flushing cheeks and small grins.

 

But they couldn’t hold back on their wedding day, the glow, the big smiles, the “reflected joy” in the mirror of their eyes, the affectionate touching whenever the other was near. This overflowing of love from a couple who have known each other since their teenage years was a living, breathing exhibition of Cavafy’s words.

 

What I love about this love poem is that side-by-side with the passion—all that breathing and feelings pressing down and words rushing to the lips—is a courtliness. The lover is sweetly considerate of the beloved. The speaker says he’ll speak if you wish it, and if you find these too are excessive, he’ll back off. So polite for a passionate outpouring. This is no gather ye rosebuds while ye may seduction. This lover says, it’s enough to just breathe the same air as you.

 

I can only imagine how beautiful this poem is in the original Greek.

 

There’s a postscript to “Cavafy at the wedding.” After the reception, those die-hard celebrators among us carried on at a bar, and there I met a young man on his way to Ireland to get his masters in literature. We talked about his very particular literary taste—Shelly but not Eliot, a little Yeats but not all—and I showed him the picture on my phone of the Cavafy poem. He knew Cavafy and had read the poem before. I was impressed. No doubt the pretty young woman next to him was impressed as well. He expanded the screen to highlight a particular line. “Right there,” he said, pointing. “That’s it.” I wish I could remember which line it was that was it.

 

But which line doesn’t matter. What matters is the reach, over a hundred years later and thousands and thousands of miles away, of one poet’s words on strangers in a bar late one night, on lovers on their honeymoon, on who knows who else who reads this poem right here and now and remembers a beloved, and feels the beam of passion, the glow of love, who matches Cavafy’s song of the heart with his own.

 

Us old aunties. We’re hopeless romantics.

 

I’ve written about Cavafy before and will re-print his biography here. (Link here for the full post with another great Cavafy poem.)

 

Constantine Petrou Cavafy is Greece’s most highly esteemed modern poet even though he lived only briefly in Greece. He was born in 1863 in Egypt to Greek parents, the youngest of nine children.  After the death of his father, the family fell into poverty and moved to England. There he spent most of his childhood. More financial distress pulled the family to Greece, then back to Egypt, where Cavafy worked as a journalist and as a stockbroker. But the bulk of his professional life was spent at a government agency.

 

Cavafy was never famous in his lifetime and didn’t seem interested in pursuing recognition. He printed his poems in pamphlets which he distributed to his friends. His lack of interest in publication may have been because some of his poems dealt frankly with his homosexuality and erotic themes. He died at age seventy in 1933.

 

 

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