Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Poem; Uxorious Marketing

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, a day when Romans used to whip women with leather strips to increase fertility and keep the wolves away and .

Who was St. Valentine? He may have defied the Roman Emperor when the Emperor forbid marriage for soldiers, marrying them in secret, dying in 270 A.D. But here from is the pagan festival, Lupercella, that preceded our modern celebration:

"To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

"The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage."

Ah-hem. I wasn't very popular in high school but I know I would have made it with goathide strips dipped in blood with which to tease the girls.

I did write a Valentine's poem for my Mrs., though I have the unsettling feeling it is not quite soup yet. Nevertheless I will post it. But first there's a review out on my new book from Hobble Creek Review's Blog. (You will be happy to know that it's rather complimentary.)

Meanwhile one marketing angle my publicist has come up with is to present me as the uxorious husband, the man still desperately in love with his wife, which I am. The question is how to accomplish this in a photograph; my wife just ordered a charcoal zipper sweater for me for this assignment, under which I assume she will have me wear a flannel plaid for maximum uxoriousness. I suggested holding roses or kissing her picture but she says that's OTT. Better, I suggested we use only her picture, my inspiration. But that won't work because I'm the poet we're trying to market.

But here's a picture of Kathleen for the record:

Already I have crossed the line between personality and image as I comply with the publicist's vision of market share. We want frustrated women in their forties or fifties to embrace me as the next Neil Diamond--though married. Is he married? I saw him on the Grammys and my impression was that he was either single or gay. Let me look it up: actually he's been twice divorced. He's also known as the "Jewish Elvis." Maybe I can be the "Christian Elvis" of poetry. Ah c'mon!

But seriously folks, the work must stand on its own and sell itself. The market for poetry has been increasingly dismal since 1850, so those serious about their verse will just have to discover me, female and frustrated or not. Here's my Valentine's poem for Kathleen:

Valentine 2009

Love is our shibboleth.
A filament of doubt floats over lawns
only because you're gone.
Where will my seed find purchase
in your absence?
I say your name as if an awl
had pierced my heart
clean through to vertebrae.
How did I enter into such dependency?
My world is shrunk,
the last room of a nautilus.

The lighthouse flashes by daylight
with its flickering mirrors.
I cannot see myself without you
reflecting me in turn.
I bet my life on you, gambled away
my hiking boots and compass
at the bar where filmy circles
mar mahogany and heavy metal
roars from speakers meant
to engineer brief intimacies
by forcing all to shout.

I order your favorite drink.
Ice tickles my throat.
Some woman eyes me,
turns to show her ass.
I do not nod acknowledgement--
you taught me “the look”
long after all my looks
were spent on you.

Defenses that I summon
are but transparent armor.
The world sees through them.
I can browse your pictures if I wish,
compress your beauty into two dimensions,
but it's not adequate. You are
the wild iris by the snow-lined creek,
the single raven in the Douglas fir.
Did you know they mate for life?
Married before, I never mated
until I met the perfect counterweight
to everything I'd ever said or lived
or what lay fallow in the palm of time's god.

Days snail on, I sit at my computer,
compose aches and travails, dying falls,
redwoods uprooted by a northwest storm,
rabbit fur on meadow, bits of polished clams
strewn on the shingle and the setting sun
that prisms the horizon yellow to violet.

And when night swallows Sol
in a great forest of stars, Auriga, Draco,
you wear them as a cloak.
I hide beneath it. If I undressed
you to reveal the void,
what I once was without you,
I see a man who quit his gods,
content to reason from an armchair.

Suspended like a star I burn for you.
Because of you I burn twice as bright.
Where are the Twins, my mother's sign?
North of Orion. If not lovers we would be
fraternal twins at least, inseparable.
Look--there is Cygnus, our swan-shaped carriage.
I kiss your quivering lips!

The distance between New York and here
dissolves to nothing. I would engulf
or be engulfed, merge truly without
loss of me, worship your velvet skin
with fingers trained for surgery,
wrap you in all the stars and planets,
undress you again.

Like many of my love poems, this came during Kathleen's absence in New York. Absence does indeed make the heart grow, if not fonder, then more acutely aware of its dependence on another object. I could not be fonder of Kathleen, or if I could, I mightily aspire to it.

I will say something about the book: The first edition, now on sale, has a minor flaw in it which will make it unique as soon as the second edition is printed. (My first book, "Elementary," originally priced at $14.95, now goes for $150 on the net. Thus my motto is, "You need not read my poetry. Consider it a hedge against inflation.")

I have nothing more to add or subtract unless it be everything I already said, which if added and subtracted amounts to the same thing, namely nothing. I hope you all had a good time on Valentine's with your goathide strips. We actually went to a big band swing dance.

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,



  1. Okay. I'll bite. What's the "minor flaw" in the first printing of the new book? Is it the fact that the table of contents is kinda' sorta' in alphabetical order until somewhere around "Notes from San Miguel" then it goes freestyle?

    You're a fine writer, Craig. I'm thoroughly enjoying the book ... still reading a couple poems every night. Last night, appropriately enough, was, "At the Lincoln Memorial". "He the machine, you the Christ, embalmed in stone under cool portico, resurrected in cold recall." Good stuff.

    By the way, no, I'm not a Richard that you've ever met. I'm 45-ish, live in the woods of western Pennsylvania, am an attorney by profession, and have been reading your blog for a little over a year now. I had some seasons of adversity myself eight years ago and somehow survived them, so I could appreciate in my own way what you were going through last year. I was pulling for you. Glad you're feeling some relief.

  2. That's a relief, Richard, as I know several Richards. Western Pennsylvania--beautiful country. And an attorney, one skilled in words. Isn't every attorney a frustrated writer?

    I'm so glad you're enjoying the poems, what they're meant for--so many fear contemporary poetry as ineluctable. Mine is not.

    As to the defect in the first edition, I cannot say. It will only be evident when the second editon comes out. I'm not being coy, I'm just avoiding prejudicing the potential reader agains one or the other.

    The net is a miraculous thing, eh? You meet more interesting people than in a bar.

    Thanks for rooting for me and thanks for reading,



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Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!