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.


  1. Thank you Maja for your beautiful poem, your beautiful heart and your friendship which sweetens my life with music and roses. Thank you too for remembering the poem that honors my mother which I wrote after the painting we were both inspired by. I read that poem tonight at the Moonday reading as a valentine to my mother but I was only allowed to do so because of you. Thank you my dear friend. I offer it here for you as a valentine for you. I am with you too, always.

    With You Always
    for Jane

    It was supposed to be
    just this way-
    a watercolor world
    lit by the clear, clear light
    that happens only after rain.
    You are lit here too
    and so am I.
    You who gave me
    all the words I know
    to describe the world
    have become that world—
    the colors bursting into
    names: “Look, the sky
    is peacock blue,
    the grass is apple green.
    See the peaches
    in the clouds, persimmon
    in the nearby hill, olive
    where the branches lean.”
    I couldn’t yet walk,
    but you wheeled me
    The stroller was my chariot
    and you— my charioteer
    pointing out the poetry
    in every object,
    every phrase
    until my world filled
    with the sound of your voice
    and my eyes knew,
    my ear knew, my mind knew
    the wonder that lives inside
    all spoken words.
    When I was almost grown
    you told me the story
    of how you described the universe
    giving me my gift of words.
    I laughed, but never properly replied.
    I wanted to bring you colors

    of rain washed air,
    to walk beside you when you
    couldn’t see the lavender
    anymore in mountains,
    or the mustard in fields
    where dandelions bloom—
    and describe for you how beautiful
    the colors are in the after light of rain,
    how everything seems deeper—
    even the water soaked grain
    on the bark of trees.
    In the picture that I paint
    we are walking up a path
    in the late afternoon—
    we are bathed in the clear gold light
    that fills a sky with promise.
    I am pointing out a tree
    with avocado leaves
    streaked with teal.
    It has just rained.

    In gratitude for my mother
    who gave me the gift of words
    and for Kotofumi Tsukuri who created them.

  2. Thank you, Susan, for a wonderful gift - an appreciation of a mother's love by her child, an introduction to the magic of words that create worlds as they describe them. It is even better when heard in your gentle voice, so thanks for both!