Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine’s Day Failure as a Poet

You will never see one of my poems superimposed over an image like this and posted to Facebook.

I admit it.  I must be a failure as a poet and probably as a male of the species.  I could never write a love poem.  That is my shame.  Isn’t that what poets do?  Eventually they all write something to their Coy Mistress, a lyric ode, a flight of fantastic metaphor, even the wounded wail of the broken heart.
But not me.  Not even when I was starry eyed and deep in the throes of first Great Love and pretending to be a brooding, sensitive young man.  None of the beloveds of my life, including my wife of thirty odd years—very odd as she will attest—has ever opened on Valentine’s Day that special missive just for her celebrating her as my muse.  At best there would be a Hallmark Card and if we could afford it and our schedules permitted a nice diner out.
I am pretty sure this makes me one of pathologically shut down, the stereotypical emotionally unavailable, cold men that have driven many good women to despair and violence.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
I have written about love about three times in poetry.  The first effort, Only the Eunuch,  was written in the winter of 1979, the year of a notable Chicago blizzard and a period of deeply drunken depression while hanging around a pathetic North Side dive called the Blue Bird Tap on Irving Park Road.  It was really mostly about self pity—I only seemed to attract wounded women who wanted to cry on my shoulder and then return to the assholes who had broken their hearts.  

Only the Eunuch

I was only the eunuch
            they could fly to
            when lovers frayed
            their lives to unbrading hemp,
            when other hand reached out,           
            solace masking pricks
            straining at their BVDs.

Only the eunuch
            of the four walled      
            empty harem
            with ear and eye
            but no other organ
            playing a tune for them,
            no cantata of passion,
            never ever a fuge.

Only the loving eunuch
            with sweet castrato voice
            to sing them
            velvet solace
            wrapping them
            in memories.

Only the healing eunuch
            who hears
            of their daily crucifixion,
            pull nails from their hands
            anoints their wounds
            and sends them
            safely back
            to save their persecutors.
The following poem is all that is left of a fantasy novella that I was working on thirty years ago.  In it Merlin awoke in the Crystal Cave in 1940, shaken to consciousness by German bombs.  His adventures in war time Britain and thence to America to be discovered by me (the character me of the story) perched on a stool down the bar in my favorite shot-and-beer saloon.  The manuscript of that opus, scribbled in ball point in a spiral notebook (I was too poor at the time to even own a typewriter) disappeared after a fire in the cockroach infested, stinking-toilet-down-the-hall rooming house I inhabited at the time.  No great loss to Western Literature I assure you.  But version of the following poem, meant to be a kind of introductory set piece survived because it was folded in my shirt pocket the night of the fire.   It appeared in the present version in my 2004 collection We Build Temples in the Heart, and reportedly has become a favorite reading at some Unitarian Universalist Valentine services, weddings, and other occasions celebrating love.

 Merlin Said

Love is the only magic—

It enriches the giver
     as it nourishes the object.
It serves the instant
     and washes over the ages.
It is as particular as the moon
     and as universal as the heavens.
If returned it is multiplied
     yet spurned it is not diminished.
It is as lusty as the rutting stag
     but as chaste as the unicorn’s pillow.
It comes alike to the king on his throne
     and the cut purse in the market.
If you would have magic,
     place faith in love or nothing.

The next poem did not make my book.  My editor didn’t think it was uplifting enough.  It began, oddly enough, as a verbal communications exercise at a church Men’s Retreat, just the kind of touchy-feely event I usually successfully avoid.  It was also the year that Comet Hale-Bopp made its impressive appearances in the evening skies.  While not written in response to a particular romantic failure, who among us can honestly say we have not been there.

Relationship in Space

Our relationship was like the Comet
    That swings around the sun
     burning as it nears,
     casting its tail away
     from its attraction
     before being sling shot
     into deep, dark, frozen
     and intractable space.

There you have it, my entire surviving body of poetic work on the subject of love.  Told you I was a failure.

1 comment: