Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Eve

Here we are, the day before Valentine's Day, a day that can be full of symbols and signs.  It's also a good day to consider how overused those symbols have become.  Can we refresh them?

Take the simple rose.  It's the flower that I use when I teach symbols to my English 102 students.  They're not taking my class to become a better poet; they're looking to get a requirement out of the way.

So, I say, "If I arrive home to find a dozen roses waiting for me, my response would be 'Wow!  Who loves me?'  Unless, of course, it's a dozen black, withered roses.  But if it's a pot of geraniums, I'm likely to have a different response."  They get that.

Likewise the heart.  Is there a way to make that symbol new again?

Here's a poem that attempts to do just that.  I got the idea one summer, around 2001 or so.  I was reading Rick Bragg's latest book and thinking about the men who worked in the mills.  And this poem emerged.

I realize that some readers might be puzzled at the idea of me dividing myself into parts this way.  Literal readers will say, "But the heart is part of you."  Yes, I have this sort of medieval approach to my body, seeing it as separate from myself.  I expect to spend my life integrating all the parts of myself that I see as separate but really aren't.

This poem was published in Coal City Review.  I would have sworn it was also part of my first chapbook, but when I checked this morning, I realized that it's not.  Once I had that chapbook memorized; strange to realize how many years have gone by since I put it together.

Mill Worker Heart


My heart is a mill worker,
slaving long hours, hidden away in dark hollows.
It knows it cannot miss a day of work and so it slogs
away, pumping with its powerful muscle mass, conserving
energy by slaving steadily.

I throw fits, create dramas, drop into hysterics
for the most minor of reasons.  My heart ignores
me, like the man who knows he can’t be late
to work, who takes his lunch bucket, steps
across the children, kisses his weeping wife, and escapes.

I spend the better part of each day pondering, wondering
if I’m living up to my life’s ultimate purpose.
My heart spends no time on such a ridiculous
torture.  It knows its purpose, its primary
part in the body of my life.  Long ago it heard
its true calling, and it has never lost a beat.

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