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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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Before the ever-abrupt end of our shortest month, here’s a follow-up to my annual Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz.

 

First, a face, a living Valentine.

 

 

 

Meet Pam Woolway, Short Order Poet. Her poetry is made-to-order and on-the-spot, each poem inspired by a single word supplied by the customer. She types them on a diner-style guest check, the green kind with the carbon copy so she can keep one for herself. She sets up her old-fashioned typewriter (is there any other kind?) at various locations on the island of Kauai. You can link to her blog here to learn more about her project.

 

I met her in a cool shop in Kapa’a called Kiko where she works and where she gave me a gift of one of her laminated poems. I kept it in my pocket for a couple of days (which is how it got bent), hoping to find a good spot for it. Eventually I came across a dog crate, and there I left “The Dog.”

 

poem is on top of crate, set against the yellow towel

 

The poem is a sweet reminder of the goodness of dogs and what they bring to our lives. It also gives me a question to meditate on. Who or what is “up” for me?

 

The crate was on the side of the road at a scenic overlook for Wailua Falls. No dog was inside—maybe he went to take a gander at his surroundings.

 

 

The second addendum to my Valentine’s Day poem blitz isn’t a poem at all. It’s a quote from Ali Smith’s beautiful novel Autumn.

 

I placed it at the base of the Kuilau Ridge Trail in Kapaa.

poem is in right forefront of photo

 

How do you feel about the last sentence? (In the end, not much else matters.) I myself don’t agree with it, but the desire to be seen truly is one that grows in me each year more than the last.

 

 

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I don’t know what this flower is, but it’s got a hearts-and-ashes coloration befitting today’s unusual dual-celebration (Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, in case you didn’t know).

 

One note before I get to my annual Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz: I usually include a range of poems for all different kinds of Valentines, but not this year. These are all romantic if not downright erotic. No poems for Galentines and Palentines, no poems for lovers of nature and animals, no Christina Rossetti I’m-going-to-jump-in-the-river-and-drown poems. In a few weeks I’ll put up a separate Love Hurts post, and if I dig up enough poems about platonic love, I’ll do a Friendship Poem Blitz as well.

 

On with the show.

 

At a construction site in downtown Hanalei, Kauai, I left “Song” by W.H. Auden on a handicapped parking sign.

 

I don’t think I’d have a place in this lighthearted litany of what a person will do to “keep his date with Love” . . . I’m more of a wait-till-I-finish-drying-the-dishes gal . . . but I salute the fevered ones who can leave a task undone to get to the fun business.

 

 

A grocery store Valentine display was a good spot to put “The Revelation” by Coventry Patmore. The poem is balanced on top of a bottle of wine called Cupcake.

 

Here, the essence of all romantic fantasies:

Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;

           They lift their heavy lids, and look 

 

 

As a counterpoint to Patmore’s idea of “once a lifetime each,”  I placed Susanna Styve’s  “Mother in Love at Sixty” outside the same grocery store in a cart.

 

Methinks she doth protest too much . . .

 

 

Here’s Hanalei’s bookstore. I set “The Love Cook” by Ron Padgett on top of a Chinese cookbook. An hour later when I came back it was gone.

 

The most romantic words in the world?

Let me cook you some dinner.

 

 

I stuck “To Helen About Her Hair” by Robinson Jeffers in the bristles of a brush in the personal care aisle of the Hanalei grocery store. The gentleman to the right is inexplicably studying women’s hygiene products, but at least he didn’t bat an eye at my elf-ing.

 

If hair care bores you, think about this the next time you drag a brush through your locks:

I bid you comb it carefully,

For my soul is caught there,

Wound in the web of it.

 

 

“Are You Tired of Me, My Darling?” is poised on top of a trashcan.

 

This poem could fit in the Love Hurts post just as well as it does here, depending on the beloved’s answer to the question posed.

 

 

“Toast” by Leonard Nathan is nestled in a big piece of driftwood on Hanalei Bay.

 

I love this toast to a stranger never seen:

Love, whoever you are,

your courage was my companion

 

 

And finally, I put Kenneth Rexroth’s “A Dialogue of Watching” at the base of this traditional statue outside a surf shop.

 

Today of all days, let every lover say to the beloved

I have never known any

One more beautiful than you.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Celebrate love and spread it around.

 

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The sixth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Poem Blitz ran into some glitches this year, which is why it’s arriving so late. I knew it was going to be a few hours late because I’m on Hawaii time, but I didn’t expect (who does) to wake up on Valentine’s Day and discover my purse was stolen. I had to spend a few hours with the police and the credit card companies instead of on this post. I can’t complain because, well, Hawaii. Also because my son found my purse in the bushes up the street and the dumb kids who broke in only took my money and not my credit cards, license, favorite lipstick, or prescription sunglasses.

if you have to get your purse stolen, better here than in Michigan

if you have to get your purse stolen, better here than in Michigan

 

Anyway, the show must go on.

 

I’m without my own valentine this Valentine’s Day—he’s travelling in Asia–but his absence doesn’t dim my enthusiasm for my favorite holiday. Forget about chocolates and roses and candlelight—it’s a great day stripped of all that, a day to celebrate love in all its forms and manifestations. After all, what other holiday is dedicated to one single emotion?

 

Let’s start with a poem I’ve posted before (at my niece’s wedding). Fulvia Lupulo’s poem was just the thing to leave at a fancy hotel where couples go to canoodle and watch the sun set over the spectacular Hanalei Bay. This couple from Seattle was celebrating their third anniversary. Look how happy they are!

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You don’t need to have a romantic partner to understand that being loved is transformational.

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Honeymooners and babymooners (something I only recently heard of) are everywhere here in Hanalei, but I also see a lot of long-married couples. For them I taped “A Decade” by Amy Lowell (1874-1925) on a tree much older than that.

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poem is on tree root

The ease of these older couples as they walk the beach or wade into the surf together is a delight to watch. Less red wine and honey and more morning bread.

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Here’s one for brand-new Valentines, “Rondeau” by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). I taped it to a park bench under a tree on the beach, just right for a first kiss.

poem is on bench back

poem is on bench back

Hunt’s poem is a sweet reminder of the thrill of that first contact.

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Galentines is a thing these days, not a typo, a day (the day before Valentine’s Day, actually) to celebrate friendship. I’m changing it to Palentines so men are included, and so for all pals I left an excerpt from Shakespeare’s “To Me, Fair Friend” under a wooden statue of an old surfer in Hanalei Town. The surfer is making the shaka sign, a friendly greeting made popular by surfers and Hawaiians.

 

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The gray-haired, wrinkle-chested surfers you meet around here truly are, in dress and demeanor, ageless. Boys by any measure of the spirit.

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For those who find Valentines Day painful, I taped William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) “Down by the Salley Gardens” on a flowery phone booth right outside a lively bar where couples are busy coupling.

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Yeats is the poster boy for unrequited love. He courted Maud Gonne for thirty years and it all came to this: But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

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For break-ups that are more bittersweet than heartbreaking, I present this Frank O’Hara poem (1926-1966), “Animals.” I wedged it in a display of Valentine animals of unknown species in the grocery store.

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The older I get, the more I love this poem and these lines in particular:

when we were still first rate

and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

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For my own Valentine, who wakes up today on the opposite side of the Pacific, I taped “Tides” by Hugo Williams (b. 1942) to some twigs and stuck it in the sand at high tide.

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For that is happiness: to wander alone

Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves

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That’s it! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Or Happy Day-After Valentine’s Day if that’s what it is by the time you read this!

 

And yes, Happy Valentine’s day even to the punks who stole my money—may you find the love that heals whatever ails you.

 

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poem fragment on wall in foreground

poem fragment on wall in foreground

 

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

 

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Sometimes you rifle down into your purse and find treasure. Quarters for the meter, a lipstick you forgot about, a funeral card for someone dear. The same with pictures on your phone, which at least for me, are taken and re-taken to get the light right or goofy expressions eliminated, and then sit buried with thousands of others photos in cyberspace till your storage is full.

 

So with these pictures. I happened upon them because I was missing my daughter who’s studying abroad. I pulled up pictures from my visit to her in early November and found this excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” (Link to the full poem here.)

 

Not bragging (or am I) but I do like how the yellow light looks so seedy, the way I’ve always imagined Prufrock’s streets–

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

of insidious intent

 

Some of you may already have seen this from my Twitter account. I’m pulling it out for my blog because posting it on Twitter led me to a beautiful video I want to share.

 

Another tweeter (DareToEatAPeach@twitter.com) shared a link to a video interpretation of the poem. Actually, I shouldn’t call it an interpretation. The actor in the video, Daniel Henshaw, calls the film a “response” to the poem, and the poem a “love song to existence.”

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The film is directed by Laura Scrivano, produced by The Passion Films, and filmed in New York.

 

It’s only eight minutes long and worth watching. I loved it. It’s quiet and mesmerizing with lots of cigarrette-smoking, something I don’t often see anymore. You’ll hear the old familiar poem anew. Link here. 

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Time for the fifth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Binge. Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing good reason to eat chocolate, tell people close to me that I love them, and hide lovely poems around town. On with the celebration!

 

In a dark romantic bar with plenty of private corners for canoodling, I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” against a cocktail menu on a table for two.

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The first line is overly familiar, but it’s worth taking a minute to read the rest. Browning marries high-minded love–

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise

with a physical passion–

I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!

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The table was empty when I left the poem, but a short while later, a couple took over the booth. I slunk past to see what had happened to the poem, and found that the woman had put it under a wine glass, like a coaster. The poem seemed to have had a romantic effect on the two–

 

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Unfortunately the pull of texting won out over the pull of passion put to use/In my old Griefs

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I went to the last remaining bookstore chain in my area and left “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti in a section featuring books on love and relationships. Specifically, I put it on top of a book (top shelf) called What I Love About You:

poem is on top shelf in front of book with heart on the cover

I thumbed through the book and found that the sweet nothings there were truly nothing compared to Rossetti’s soaring lines. Wildly in love, the speaker proclaims the commencement of a new love to be a new birth-day for her:

the birthday of my life

     is come, my love is come to me

 

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Rossetti is usually my go-to girl for the anti-Valentine portion of this annual love-poem post, but this time I turned to an ancient Japanese poet named Otomo No Yakamochi to fill that role. I left a short poem of his in a high school. Swim practice was underway, and plenty of teens, lovelorn and otherwise, loitered in the hallway after school.

poem is on wall next to pool windows

poem is on wall next to pool windows

 

I was thinking of teenagers in love, teenagers experiencing their first love, and eventually, for most, facing the end of first love and all the beautiful illusions it brought.

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Alas, the rest of my poems were placed in that most prosaic and least-romantic of places, the mall. But it was cold outside, and the idea of traipsing around looking for more interesting spots was an idea better suited to a younger and warmer elf.

I returned to Victoria’s Secret (where last year I took one of my favorite pictures ever) to leave “Couples” by Romanian poet Nina Cassain. I set the poem in a red lace panty set and wondered who would buy such a cliche, man or woman.

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I haven’t figured this poem out completely, but it reminds me of some interesting advice my girlfriend’s mother gave her. Always love a man less than he loves you, she said. Presumably it was safer. But Cassain sees a benefit to loving more:

The one who loves more

is the happier.

Indeed, the happiest!

I wish I could know if the man or woman who buys this Valentine underwear is the one who loves more or the one who loves less. And if they consider themselves to have the better bargain.

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Pablo Neruda was the poet I placed last year in the Victoria’s Secret underwear. This year I put him in a less promising spot, the luggage department at Macys. But “Love Sonnet XLV” is so romantic it infuses the whole floor with charm:

Poem is in pocket of blue suitcase

Poem is in front pocket of blue suitcase

 

After I took the pictures, I zipped up the poem inside the suitcase. I dream of the person packing for a trip who finds these lines

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In the Apple Store, the most crowded store in the mall on the day before Valentine’s Day, I put a few lines of Alexander Pushkin on top of an iPad display:

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poem is on top of iPad next to frowning man

I’m enamored of the way this lover speaks to his lost love. He wishes her well, he wishes her a new love. This isn’t the kind of ex-lover we see in movies. Pushkin is a sweet counterpoint to all those stalkers and revenge seekers. (That’s Pushkin’s face I pulled up on the iPad.)

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Finally, in Macy’s kitchen section I left Donald Hall’s “Summer Kitchen.” This one is for my own Valentine, a lover of food and cooking.

poem leans against stockpot

poem leans against stockpot

Donald Hall was married to poet Jane Kenyon for twenty-three years before she died of leukemia. This poem strikes me as very Kenyon-like, celebrating their daily love, settled and quiet:

We ate, and talked, and went to bed,

And slept. It was a miracle.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With so much hate in the world, this year I cherish Valentine’s Day all the more. Love trumps hate, I believe that with all my heart. (And the pun is intended.)

 

For more Valentine poems, see posts from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

 

 

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There’s a sad nip in the air this morning, a reminder to get the rest of my summer beach posts up before they’re as out-of-date as puka shells and jellies.

I count myself among the most fortunate of souls that I got to return to Maryland this summer to spend a week at the beach with my family. There’s much to love–blue crabs, Fractured Prune doughnuts, steak-and-cheese subs, the stifling, warms-the-soul humidity inescapable on the Delmarva peninsula. And of course the accent. A week gives me just enough time to re-claim it. Unfortunately by the time I hit the Ohio Turnpike on my way back to Michigan I’ve already lost it. So I’ve titled this post to honor the beautiful way Marylanders speak the English language. (If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing it, link here to enjoy how we say “o’s” and here for an exaggerated version of common Maryland expressions.)

On with post. I had snippets of poems–by that I mean I snipped a few lines out of longer poems–that referenced the ocean, and I put them all over Bethany Beach one afternoon while on a boardwalk outing with a few nieces and a nephew.

I left the opening lines of  “Here With Your Memory” by Alejandro Murguía on a fence post next to some mismatched beach shoes.

poem is on fence next to shoes

The brooding, windy weather was just right for this one:

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(The poem is not on line and is too long for me to type out, at least at this moment. If I feel less lazy when I finish this post, I’ll type it out at the bottom.)

I gave my nieces, Sophia and Georgie, a single line from Keats’ “Endymion” to hold because the wind was blowing everything this way and that, and because they are beauties, even though Sophia is uncharacteristically scowling.

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These two have since returned to Ecuador with a piece of my heart. (A good time to welcome to my sister Josie’s Ecuadorian students. Hello to all and thanks for reading Poem Elf! Good luck this year.)

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The joy beauty gives may be forever, but beauty itself is ephemeral, so I asked Sophia to let the piece of paper blow away. See it in the bottom right of the photo.

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Still, I have faith in Keats’ words that follow this line–“it will never pass/into nothingness.” You can see the paper, just above the dune grass in the dead center of the picture, on its way to places unknown.

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You can read the complete poem here.

On a storage shed for umbrella rentals I left a famous bit from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”:

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It’s a poem that always seems horribly relevant, but perhaps never as much as in these times.

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Link to the complete poem here.

And finally, at our favorite store, the ubiquitous Candy Kitchen, I left “A Modest Love” by Elizabethan poet Sir Edward Dyer. My sister Susie, long-time president of the Candy Club, sits surrounded by this bunch of beggars. The poem is behind her on the door, just above little Emily’s pink hair flower.

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I love these lines so much I’m using them as the epigraph for the novel I’m working on.

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Link to the complete poem here.

Speaking of love and sweet beach treats, my niece Emily told me she does not like caramel corn. She seems downright hostile to it. But not little Georgie:

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Okay, I’ve decided I owe it to Murguía to type out his poem. The longing and nostalgia here is something I’m feeling now as I sit at my desk in Michigan, remembering summers of long ago at the beach, and one summer in particular with a red-haired boy who lives with me now.

(I’ve posted one of Murguía’s poems in the past–link here.)

Here With Your Memory

by Alejandro Murguía

Today I sat down pensive

staring at the sea

pinned like a prisoner

to another day

curled up

made a conch

by all fecund things you are

on this earth and in the sea

the cry of seagulls

the clouds like a reflection of the water

the sky like your caress that June day

of which the only thing left is this moment

these seconds when you surge again

out of the sea

your bathing suit pure foam

splendid, young mermaid

with bronzed arms

hair the color of burnt sand

woman made of spells, aquatic flowers

of earth, mountains, herbs

made into poems

because we were together that afternoon

and were transformed into calendars

where the days always return

with their same destinies

the same lovers and enemies as always

only you and I

because we were

a gush of water, music,

the ruby of a kiss

falling into the depths

where across all the years

we see each other

as we were that day

poor and in love with the whole world.

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