I confess I’m not much for commercially promoted holidays, though I can hardly profess to ignore them either. I grew up in a family that still had the ghost of the Great Depression hanging over its collective head. So that meant we were taught—long before the era of recycling—the value of conserving and re-using things as long as possible, rather than rushing out to buy the latest so-called ‘must have.’ It’s an ethic we’d do well to promote again, with the planet reeling from the consumer and corporate excesses of the past 50 years.
What that ethic translated into in our family home—even with the prosperity of the ’60s all around us—was an encouragement by my parents to create many of our own gifts and cards. I was fortunate to have a natural gift for drawing from an early age as well as writing, so this came naturally to me. One of my fondest memories of receiving a gift had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or Christmas or a birthday. It was a little wooden sternwheeler toy my Dad made for me from a few blocks of painted wood—with a genuine paddlewheel powered by a rubber band. (An appropriate gift for a Kootenay boy.) I honestly can’t remember any of the other family gifts I received over the years.
What does this have to do with Valentine’s Day? Well, once again it crept up on me too fast to prepare. So while my Sweetie as usual was on it with the ready card and gift, I had to scramble. In my defense, I had pre-ordered a dozen red roses and picked them up the day before. As it happens, her birthday falls in November, along with our anniversary, and then—boom! It’s Christmas already. So by February 14 I’m feeling a little ‘gifted out.’
No excuses—I burned the midnight oil and got on it. I find a certain crackle of creative energy in the nighttime hours due to my constitution. Thanks to training in graphic design, 35 years’ experience as a photographer and some useful software, I created a one-of-a-kind Valentine’s Day card, using original photographic art. But this is only the wrapping on the chocolate—inside that shiny foil is the real gift—a poem. Riffing on the two images I’d selected, I wrote the poem you see here. Obviously not any longer being in the first flush of new love, the poem reflects (hopefully) a more mature yet still deeply connected relationship.
A few years ago in an essay called The Trouble With Love Poems, I wrote: “The trouble with a love poem is that it comes from a place of total bewilderment, even derangement. I’ve probably written scores of love poems in my life. Thankfully I’ve only been bold enough to venture a few out into public light. The intoxication of the senses that prevails in the early stages of love is seldom a sane place to create great literature from. Yet how necessary this drunkenness is to bond with another soul, how ancient an urge.” Having spent much of my adult life single, teetering from one sketchy relationship to another, I also understand the intense loneliness holidays like Valentine’s Day can create.
I highly recommend the anthology my Sweetie gave me for Valentine’s Day about four years ago, called Love Poems from Around the World, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2000. It’s a wonderful compilation that includes poetry from the British, Chinese, Finnish, Polish, Irish and many more—a fascinating mosaic of the various ways love is perceived by different cultures.
In defense of my own love poems, I offer the section called Luminous in my 2009 collection Star Seeds, carefully screened to avoid the silly factor love often induces. But then, poets have often seen much in common with the “total derangement of the senses” Baudelaire said was required to write poetry and the sweet senselessness of infatuation that can grow into genuine love.
Meanwhile, linger over this…
—Valentine’s Day, 2012
You scatter summer stars at my table
stoke to blazing
petals of silken fire
in my head
stir the dark corona
in my eye
singe my hair
You lay my dinner with lace
and loving hours
pour the daffodil scent
of tea to linger
beyond the sun’s
©2012 Sean Arthur Joyce