Monday, February 14, 2011

Love After Love - For Valentine's Day

It is a topic of so many country songs, so many romantic sonnets, so many tales and novels. It gave rise to new genres of literature (romance, troubadour poetry) and in other arts (rom com, or romantic comedy in film; the comedy as a classic theatrical genre). After centuries of efforts to describe it, we still do not know what it is. The taxonomies and definitions that I cited in the previous essay are just one way of approaching this elusive topic.

For the Valentine's Day of 2006, I wrote the following short poem, dedicated to my children. It is simple and didactic, defining different types or levels of loving:

Love Defined

You are beautiful. I love you.

You are beautiful. I want you. I take you.

You are beautiful. I love you. I give you. . .

Beauty is Goodness is Truth is Love.
We are.

♥ ♥ ♥

Step by step, the gradation leads upward from romantic infatuation to spiritual Love. At the highest level it is a complete acceptance of Being, the eternal "Amen" - "Yes" resounding from the slopes of the mountains, from the waves of oceans, from the smallest blade of grass and crystal of quartz in the sand. Love is... and always will be, unchanged. To understand it, it is enough to think of its opposite - hatred - and the deafening, blinding "No" that it entails. Denial. Rejection. Death.

The variants of love that I named "Amor" and "Eros" are often intertwined. The presence of "Caritas" and "Agape" may be sensed even in those stages of admiration and attraction. The following poems are selected to illustrate the process of spiritual evolution from love based in need, want and desire to that grounded in compassion and connection through mutual acceptance - the divinely timeless love.

A Chocolate Kiss

You are my chocolate,
my candy, my lover sweet
in the morning,
alive with kisses

My soul rests
like a bird
on your shoulder

I dream of you

♥ ♥ ♥

This free-verse poem has been my favorite among my own love poems, not only because I do love chocolate. It is just sweet. Love for another human being that brings a sense of safety, trust, happiness in being together, in sharing, in becoming one... And then, there is the longing, dreams filled with desire. That is one way of looking at love: the romantic, "Happy Valentine's Day" type of love.

Its strength, from the times of Sappho, has astounded generations of poets, who, like Goethe's Werther wandered around smitten, with the eyes of their beloved blazing in their mind, the feeling of her lips still burning in memory... Petrarch, Dante, Rossetti, Rilke... all lovers of love. How strong could it be? For Sappho, it was like the storm that fells trees, like a lightning. Here's my version of that sentiment:


It waxes and wanes
with the moon

It grows and recedes with the tides
flowing through my veins
with every heartbeat

It shines in the dark
like phosphorescent letters
on a child’s shirt

It is so full of color
that it shames the rainbow
and dims the neon glare
of acrylic wonderland

it has outgrown my despair
my anguish, my pride

Like child’s laughter
in an empty room,
like the stillness
of crystal mountain air

Beyond words
love is

♥ ♥ ♥

Now, if love cannot be defined in words, what am I doing, trying to name it and describe it in so many different ways? That, of course, is the task of poetry: naming the unnameable. In doing so, poets have linked love to roses, rich and fragrant, with hues ranging from pure white, through rosy, to intense scarlet and vermillion. Reading the history of roses makes you realize that, although these flowers were found in nature, they were created and re-created in countless varieties by lovers for lovers. The rose gardeners and makers crossed different varieties, spliced the roots of one bush with the branches of another - all in pursuit of that perfect flower. Now, let someone who saw a rose deny the power of evolution, or the human role in evolution...

A Secret

I thought roses.
I thought rich, velvet blossoms.
I thought a red rainbow
from deep crimson to delicately pinkish.

The secret was underground
where the roots sustain
the multi-hued orgy of sensuous allure –
flowers opening to dazzle and fade.

The strength of the rose
is invisible – you see the blush
of seduction in each leaf and petal,

You admire their charms.
Yet, you care for what’s out of sight,
not for the obvious.

I thought your love.
I thought how you adore me.
I went deeper down to the source.

The rose, Sappho’s lightning
of beauty, breathes love,
laughs at the wind, wonders.

The mystic rosebush dances,
crowned with the royal
garland of fire.

♥ ♥ ♥

In this garland of allusions, I managed to weave Sappho with T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (the end of Little Gidding):

"All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."

I also thought about Rilke's superb ode to the beauty of roses (Les Roses, translated by Barbara Collignon, VI and XV). Elsewhere he compared these flowers to eyes of butterflies, transient and timeless at the same time:

"One rose alone is all roses
and this one: irreplaceable,

And then, he says:

"Alone, oh abundant flower
you create your own space"

One rose alone ... That is a great idea I borrowed for my next rose/love poem. The "Rose Window" is structured like an argument, in a Socratic style of thesis, refutation, and synthesis. It marries the timelessness of a stained-glass window in a medieval cathedral with the recurring timelessness of petals that grow and fall, grow and fall, ever new, ever old, ever new...

Rose Window

I place you in the heart
of my rose, dark red one,
with dew drops on its leaves.

Like a tricked-up baby
from Ann Geddes’ postcard
you rest, snugly wrapped
in the comfort of my love.

“That too shall pass,” they say,
“That too shall pass.
The rose will wither,
love will fade away.”

Respectfully, I disagree.
I know the symmetry
of velvet petals
is but an opening
into a different universe,
a cosmic window,

I see it in the shyness
of your smile. Yes.
You are that lucky.

In the morning,
when the curtains of mist
open above silver hills
carved from time
like a Japanese woodcut,
you taste freedom.

You found your true self
under the detritus
of disordered life.

Isn’t it strange
that you’ve been saved
by the perfection
of just one rose?

♥ ♥ ♥

Too sweet? Too charming? Let me go all the way, then, through a rainbow of hues found in a painting I liked so much that I actually bought. At one of the Poets on Site's Manzanar Workshop projects, I saw a watercolor by Minoru Ikeda, "With You Always." The title reminded me of a Patsy Cline song, and the colors of the hues remembered from the landscape of my childhood spent in villages of my grandparents, and in the pink house surrounded by yellow daisies that towered above my head when I came back to the city suburbs from my summer vacations.

My friend and wonderful poet, Susan Rogers, wrote a poem for her mother, inspired by the same painting, so I'm including my poem here as a gift of friendship. In poetry "I am, you are, we are."


The voice of Patsy Cline
hovers above sweet cuteness of pastels,
brightly hued like the candy
we call “landrynki” and laugh
when the sugar dye paints our tongues
with fake pink and blue, fuchsia and lavender

We walk down a country road
to our pink and blue homes,
in a fuchsia and lavender embrace
under matching, happy hills that sing
“I’ll be loving you, always
With the love that’s true, always”

♥ ♥ ♥

Let us hear the timeless song, then... Irving Berlin's ballad, "Always" - in the voice of Patsy Cline who died too early, leaving us with the unforgettable sounds of her rich, throaty mezzosoprano, country-style, no less: Patsy Cline sings Always.


With the exception of "Defining Love," the poems reproduced here were published earlier, in Rose Always (2011, now withdrawn). "Rose Window" was published in Voice of the Village in the Voice of the Village 1, no. 10, August 2010, p. 27 (pdf download).

"Always" appeared in a chapbook by Poets on Site edited by Kathabela Wilson and including poems written for the 12th Annual Fukuhara Workshop at Manzanar and Alabama Hills, Observations and Interpretations, (Poets on Site, September 2009). The poem was first read at the closing of the exhibition from the Workshop held at APC gallery in Torrance in September 2009.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What is love? Valentine's Day Reflections

What is love? Expressions like “Mmmm, I love this chocolate…” or “Wow, I love this dress!” somehow do not seem to belong with “Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.” (First Letter of St. John, 4: 8). The month of February is a good time for considering this question since it is dedicated to the celebration of love and romance, with the ubiquitous red hearts, sweets, diamonds, and Victoria Secret’s underwear ads. Apparently, it is also a time for desperate searching for a mate, with the accompanying spike in the use of dating sites and the inevitable incidents of depression.

I know at least one lovely and love-filled couple who celebrates their engagement on Valentine’s Day, and why not? I imagine that such perfectly match paired human beings are like the mystical angelic creatures dwelling in Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven – eight-limbed, perfectly whole, united for eternity… Swedenborg writes: “The most perfect and noblest human form is that which exists when by marriage two forms become one single form, thus when two fleshes become one flesh in accordance with creation. That the mind of the man is then elevated into superior light, and the mind of the wife into superior heat; and that they then bud and blossom and bear fruit, as do trees in the time of spring.” (From Swedenborg’s Wisdom's Delight in Marriage Love, 201: XVI).

In Swedenborg’s perfect “conjugal union” the male element is wisdom and the female is love. By uniting and exchanging these core elements, the man and woman become whole and perfect. Only together they are completely fulfilled. This vision of coupled happiness inspired the following poem:

Eros 6

we are the walnut
of perennial wisdom

locked together
(two halves in one)
we share one breath
of blessed air

we peel the minutes
off the ancient clock

The loving couple defines their own world that they share and that they exclude everyone else from. In their uniquely intimate love, the sexual and the emotional are fully united. Their bond is deep and deepens with time. Eventually, it may seem to be timeless – we hear about couples celebrating their 30th, 40th, or 50th wedding anniversaries and still in love… They are on their way to become Swedenborg’s angelic creatures in married heaven.

For the rest of fallible humans, there are repeated try-and-fail attempts, serial dating, serial marrying, serial heartbreaks. The fairy-tale romances start from love at first sight and continue in the novelty and excitement of meeting the beloved, discovering new things about him or her, knowing them and knowing oneself through them. Poets write about that love, film-makers keep producing romantic comedies filled with surprise romances, ending these made-up stories, for the edification of the masses, at their high points of romantic fulfillment. Dante and his Beatrice? Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Goethe’s Werther and his beloved?

Amor 2
You looked at me
and I saw myself
for the first time

I’m beautiful! I’ve heard this
many times before
but did not quite believe

In your hands
love fills
every square inch of my skin

I glow with a brightness
that even your absence
cannot dim

The contentment with having found a perfect, loving partner, too soon and too often gives in to the longing for more, always more – to see the beloved all the time, to glow with the delight of his or her presence, doing the most mundane, silly, every-day things… Does such “love-at-first-sight” exist?

Dr. Earl Nauman in Love at First Sight: The Stories and Science Behind Instant Attraction (Casablanca Press, 2001) claims that it does, and cites a whole series of first-person narrative accounts of its sudden appearance and life-long persistence. The “love-at-first-sight” tradition extends to ancient literature of Greece and Rome, to the story of Narcissus, an innocent youth of such incredible beauty and ignorance that he fell in love with his own reflection in smooth surface of the water and stayed there, transformed into a flower, abandoned to eternal self-contemplation… The psychological disorder of “narcissism” comes from that story. Is all “love-at-first-sight” and its core of desire essentially selfish? Why the success of so many romances in novels, theater, film?

Desire, the heart of erotic love may be understood and explained as a profound sense of emptiness, of needing and wanting someone to be together with, to “have and hold” – as the British marriage vows have it. That longing, in turn, too often leads to disenchantment: when satisfied it may be transformed into boredom, when the satisfaction is postponed, it may lead to disappointment. The heightened expectations are a set-up for failure. And so the cycle continues.

Eros 1

my dreams are simple –
I just want you

today, tomorrow,
in my bed, at my table,
talking on your cell phone,
putting on your socks,
all wet from the shower,
bewildered by the steady
glow of my love,
touched so deeply
that it hurts –

you – just one man
of wicked charm,
strength, wisdom

A friend of mine with a rich romantic history told me of a horrifying moment of self-revelation. While seating in a car with her lover number three, she looked at his hand, that he wrapped around hers in the exactly same gesture as her lover number one used to do. Déjà vu ... She felt the same love, the same elation, perfect happiness of togetherness with both men, yet, they were so different. Was it not the love of that person, then? The love of who they really were? Was it just a sweetly seductive feeling that being near and with these men engendered in her? Did she actually care about them and their dreams or did she just need them to put herself in a dream state of being filled with the ecstatic joy of love? Was it the heightened emotion of being in danger, of flirting and breaking rules that she misread for love?

Amor 6

the more I love
the more dangerous
life becomes
in its graphic beauty
carved with a dagger
stolen from time

the blade cuts
old wounds open

it slides on the skin
of the moment

pierced by knowing

I could end here, by adding a comment from a love-researcher, Stanton Peel who analyzed the phenomenon from a critical perspective in “Fools for Love: The Romantic Ideal, Psychological Theory and Addictive Love.” Peel contrasts “addictive” love filled with pain, “uncontrollable urge and unconscious motivation” with love as a “state of heightened awareness and responsibility.... one that kindles the most elements of feeling and moral awakening.”

In a similar vein, Robert J. Sternberg, one of the editors of The Psychology of Love where Peel’s article was published (Yale University Press, 1988), came up with a triangular theory of love (passion + intimacy + decision/commitment), and a multi-tiered classification of types of love that result from presence and absence of some of these elements. Between the extremes of passion (infatuation) and intimacy (liking), dwells the romantic love. Between passion and commitment you can find “fatuous love” but commitment alone is “empty love” – is it love at all? Just deciding to be with someone without either being attracted to that person, or liking him or her? If you add “liking” – the resultant “companionate love” is what most marriages turn into after 10 years, if not ending in a divorce. Only when the three elements co-exist, Sternberg claims, love becomes perfect “consummate love.”

Are there any other kinds? Let me continue next week...


All poems cited from Maja Trochimczyk, Miriam's Iris: Or Angels in the Garden (Moonrise Press, 2008).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Year, New Moon, New Light

Let us talk about the moon, then... In the month of February, the Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga will present a wonderful, witty and erudite poet, Mari Werner (February 27, 2011, at 4:30 p.m., Bolton Hall Museum, 10110 Commerce Avenue, Tujunga, CA 91042). For her "portrait" on the series's blog, she sent in the following poem, which is so delightful, I decided to reproduce it here as well:

Crescent Moon

by Mari Werner

A crescent moon floats above the horizon.
“You can totally see the rest of it,”
she says, as though the moon is cheating.

And the moon is cheating.
A crescent moon should be
what a crescent moon looks like
in a bedtime story illustration,
a crescent clear and simple,
no dark sphere to detract
from its perfection.

Under the smile of the crescent moon,
she sleeps in fluffy comforters,
winked upon by stars
cuddled by a curled up cat,
guarded by a sleeping dog.

That’s the bedtime story version,
but here on the surface of the planet...
you can totally see the rest of it.

In Polish children's literature, the moon is often presented as a "crescent roll" - "rogalik" - brown, well baked and tasty, neither an alien, eerie source of lunar light, casting a pall on all living things (a la "Pierrot lunaire"), nor a wasteland of rocks and dust that the astronauts have walked on. Not really a place for lunatics, either... A tamed, story-book, crescent.

On New Year's Eve 2010, over a year ago, I saw the moon differently: full, enormous, with a fuzzy halo taking over half the sky. At midnight, it crowned the horizon with its lucid glory. I saw its bluish reflections in water droplets on my rose.


"...quanta è la larghezza di questa rosa ne l’estreme foglie!" ~ Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXX

A pale light appeared behind the black ridge of the mountains. The moon floated up like a white balloon losing air, whitening the night around it. The bright halo cooled the glare of electric snowflakes on a Christmas fence, sheltering the reindeer of prickly light points and wire. The moon rose higher, the halo around it grew into a solid crown. It took over half the sky, sparkled in water droplets on the rose. Straight above our heads at midnight, it was a brilliant omen for the New Year.

the moon’s new halo
dims electric glare into calm -


As the night wore on, the intense whiteness of the moon at midnight reflected the brightness of my rose-shaped diamond brooch that could have been a heirloom, but was not. I make up my own history here, in the land of endless possibilities, so I have amassed a whole bunch of such "could have been" heirlooms. For instance, I bought my Canadian Grandma on E-bay - a portrait of her, at least. It is a gold-framed late 19th-century daguerrotype of a stern dark-haired lady with hands folded in her lap. Elegant, strong, and confident, with a lovely cameo brooch at her neck, small lace collar, and a wide skirt of a shiny brown tafetta dress - she looks like she could have been my ancestor. I'll adopt her, I thought, and clicked "buy now."

I did not buy the brooch, though, it came from my daughter's prom dress, worn once and discarded after one glorious night. I find its shiny petals a notable addition to my festive wardrobe. Like a magpie, I admire all things shiny; since I lost that platinum bracelet of real diamonds worth a couple thousand of dollars, a gift from my parents, I prefer to dazzle without the expense. I do not think any jewelrer would have loaned me those priceless gems for the Oscars. Here it is, a diamond rose sparkling in my haibun for the full moon.


"In the golden holiness of a night that will never be seen again and will never return…" ~ from a Gypsy tale

After greeting the New Year with a Chopin polonaise danced around the hall, I drove down the street of your childhood. It was drenched with the glare of the full moon in a magnificent sparkling halo. The old house was not empty and dark. On the front lawn, boys were jumping around a huge bonfire. They screamed with joy, as the flames shot up to the sky. The gold reached out to the icy blue light, when they called me to join their wild party. Sparks scattered among the stars. You were there, hidden in shadows. I sensed your sudden delight.

my rose diamond brooch
sparkles on the black velvet -
stars at midnight