Monday, February 13, 2017

From the Archives - A Valentine Poem


I wrote a Valentine’s Day poem back in 1989, and built a little essay around it.  (The idea of footnotes didn’t occur to me at the time.)  My essay was titled “The Safety Valentine,” because the poem—which I encouraged my readers to pass off as their own—was so non-steamy and understated it couldn’t possibly incite the recipient to, say, slap the poet. 

That essay wasn’t very good so I’ll spare you.  The footnotes here, below the poem, are new.

The Safety Valentine – February 10, 1989

The Poem

   ODE TO A PRETTY MUCH OKAY GIRL                
Can I compare you to a slimy slug?
No way—compared to you, a slug is gross!               2
In fact, you put to shame ‘most any bug;       
The caterpillar isn’t even close.              
On you I think I’d rather fix my gaze          
Than on a snake that’s flattened on the road.          6
I’d rather hold your hand, it’s safe to say,   
Than stroke the skin of any horny toad.        
And lady, I would deign to dine with you,       
If going hungry were my other choice.                      10
I wouldn’t mind conversing with you, too,      
If forced to otherwise give up my voice.       
    So just relax and feel real glad,            
    That I don’t think you’re really all that bad.        14

Footnotes & Commentary

Line 1:  Can I compare

Needless to say, this sonnet is a takeoff on Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18, which begins, “Can I compare thee to a summer’s day?”  This copycat strategy is really for the reader’s benefit, to make the whole sonnet thing seem a bit more familiar and less daunting.  I hope you’re happy.

Line 6:  snake that’s flattened

Putting vivid imagery into poems is hard for me.  In that regard this is one of my better sonnets, I suppose.

Line 7:  hold your hand

It’s kind of silly how my speaker assumes his reader will be the more enthusiastic party.  Who is this guy?  Back when I wrote this, I was not very bold about busting a move.  I was far more concerned about being rejected than about leading somebody on.  (I’m a little better now, but that’s only because I’m happily married and thus fairly unlikely to be rejected, except by my cat.)

Line 8:  any horny toad

That “any” is slightly silly.  It’s not like one toad is grodier than another.  This is a simple case of subjugating content to the requirements of the meter.  “Horny,” on the other hand, is a fine word choice, with the innuendo obviously intentional.

Line 9:  lady

The word “lady” here would fit just fine within the milieu of an actual Elizabethan-era sonnet, but it clearly clashes with the modern, offhand expression “no way” in the second line.  Actually, “lady” is actually a very recent revision—i.e., just now.  The original line back in 1989 was “In fact, on you I’d rather spend my dough,” which was just so lame I revised it in February of 1991 when I actually gave this sonnet to a female friend, pasted into an actual safety Valentine.  My revised version was, “And ——, I’d choose to dine with you,” where obviously instead of the dashes I had the girl’s actual name.  I’ve withheld it here to respect her privacy.

Here’s the full story:  I found myself flying solo for yet another Valentine’s Day, which wasn’t like a big deal or anything to me, but for some reason I decided to do something about it.  So I called my aforementioned friend.  (Can a college-aged guy have a female friend whom he’s not trying to turn into a girlfriend?  Yes, in fact.  I’d started out friends with this girl, then randomly escalated things one night, and that didn’t work out so well—call it lack of chemistry, I guess—so we went back to being friends.)  I asked if she wanted to have a non-date and get some dinner.  She said, “Well, I already ate.”  I asked what.  “A cheese sandwich,” she said.  I argued that that wasn’t very much food, and anyway if she really wasn’t hungry, that was okay too—she could just watch me eat.  So then she admitted her actual misgiving, which was that she and her roommates were  having “girls’ night in,” which consisted of staying home and bagging on all men.  I said that was pretty ridiculous and that surely the first rule of Man-Hating Girls’ Valentine Night must be that if anybody gets a date, she’s automatically off the hook. 

At this my friend relented, and I quickly put together the Safety Valentine, with the poem and everything.  Her roommates shot daggers at me when I picked her up, and in fact I had the sense they always hated me after that.  (In fairness, they probably already hated me before that.)  She liked the poem pretty well, I think, being a fellow English major.

One final detail about this Valentine’s non-date:  after a nice dinner at the Rockridge Café my friend randomly decided to go into the convenience store across the street and buy a lottery ticket.  She had never done this before.  To our amazement, she won!  I don’t remember the amount—probably around $20—but every bit helps when you’re a starving student.  Besides, it set me up for the perfect punch line to the tale:  “Well, at least one of us got lucky that night!”

Line 12:  give up my voice

This was also a revision from 1991.  (I won’t even tell you the original line—that’s how bad it was.)  This bit about giving up my voice may have been a reference (conscious or not) to something that had happened the previous fall.  A girl I knew, for whom I really did have romantic intentions but who lived in Arizona, came to visit me.  It ended up being a terrible visit, primarily because I was hit with this terrible virus just before she arrived, and completely lost my voice!  That made things extremely awkward, to say the least.  Looking back, the whole thing was probably doomed anyway.  She was supposed to stay all week, through the Thanksgiving weekend, but by Tuesday we were pretty much done with each other.  I decided, on a lark, to drive to Boulder for Thanksgiving, theorizing that if I did this, the girl would be gone from my apartment by the time I returned on Sunday night.  In this I was not mistaken.

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