I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction when I’m up to it and poems when I can’t help it. I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. My most recent book is Heiberg’s Twitch. And, as it happens, I share a birthday with Emily Dickinson (see below).
A Valentine for Emily
It was not Pain—for I felt none—
It was no common wound—
It was not sour—for both my ears
Heard only dulcet sound.
Archery of Hearts—Valentine—
With Robin Hood’s sure aim—
The mark—a bull’s eye of Delight—
The target free from harm.
A kindly Atlas—fast and firm—
Supports a flying Arch—
Column vaulting up—then earthwards—
From Portico to Plinth.
You smile—a whole Society—
Arms wide to let me in—
Together—Queen and church mouse waltz—
Between smeared sandstone arches
giggles of reveling boys seep into
the bloodied dungeon courtyard where
Pater Valentinus, apprehended for
succoring martyrs, remanded to the
Prefect of Rome, is reminded of
his broken pledges to apostasize,
soundly clubbed then, for renouncing
renunciation, decapitated. This on
the fourteenth of February, circa 270.
Why Valentine’s Day, then, with
hearts in place of clubs, arrows
and not axes? Why universal
cries of Amor Vincit Omnia?
Moved by their heathen hormones,
deemed lewd by the Church-At-Last-
Triumphant, Roman boys once daubed
on walls the names of favored girls.
The festival of Juno Februata fell
on the fifteenth. The bishops, resolved
to blot out this risqué festivity, to beat
it by a day, slice off its curly head,
ordained a sexless commemoration
of the defunct Saint Valentinus.
Yet paganism persists; beneath
the martyr’s blood a red heart crammed
with chocolates, pierced by a half-
fledged Cupid—no cherub he, with his
stiff quiver and merciless mouth.
Secular Hallmark descends from the
scribbling of little Gaius, lusty Marius,
precocious Cato forming in crude
capitals (with or without lewd intent)
the names of their chiton-wearing
charmers. Valentine’s name and day
survive as an unwilling apostasy,
as martyrdom’s trumped by love.
The basilica belongs to Juno Februata
who smiles a day early and cocks an
eye to spy out what Jupiter is writing.
Amor Vincit Omnia - Caravaggio
“Valentine for Emily” and “Juno Februata” first appeared in Poem
©2016 Robert Wexelblatt
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