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Audience With Sanctus Valentinus

An Audience With Sanctus Valentinus

For Patti

A confession: I was listening to the Monotones’ Book

of Love, which I’m not too embarrassed to say occupies

a sacred space on the top shelf of my imaginary library

of love titles, albeit way on the far side of the bookcase,

miles, years away from Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets, the yin

and yang of earthly devotion, when I really should be

doing what my poet friend Cathy calls morning pages,

which, honestly, is a kind of sly side door entry into

this annual spiritual crisis around February 14, cartoonish

cutouts of pink Cupids in every aisle at the Walgreens

in Beaufort, all those pointed arrows, aiming to get me

to buy a massive heart-shaped Whitman’s Sampler

as well as one of those 9X12 Hallmark cards that plays

a bar from All You Need is Love when you open it,

which I’ve resisted so far, but now I’m back in Port Royal,

Spanish moss swaying outside my window, and as if

my mind and body are two different people, I’m staring

into a screen slowly filling with vowels and consonants

bumping up against each other like lovesick teenagers

as I try to come up with magical words to touch my girl’s

heart on this unavoidably unholy holy day, wishing I could

score an audience with St. Valentine for some inspiration,

though admittedly the fantasy would sound a whole lot less

cheesy if I were to call him San Valentino, or better, Sanctus

Valentinus. Anyway, the immediate issue is that having peeled

back the tinfoil on an anticipatory Hershey’s Kiss (which is

always better than any chocolate covered strawberry and

every disappointing choice in the Whitman’s Sampler),

I recently read that Emperor Claudius II ordered Sanctus

Valentinus, to be beaten with clubs (yes!) and far far far more

appalling, had him beheaded (yep) on February 14, 269. Which

is to say that with the ghastly image of the saint’s head rolling

around outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome, and now rolling

around inside my head, I’m finding it more difficult than ever

to find the right words to celebrate love for the 55th time—

which each year brings me around to Patti’s and my first date—

December 10, 1967—the two of us sitting in a crowd

of Latter-Day Hipsters at The Factory on W. Gorham St.

in Madison, Wisconsin, waiting hours on end for the great

Otis Redding and his Bar-Kays to finally show up, unaware

that their plane had plunged into icy Lake Monona.

(I’ll let that sink in a moment ....) And yet, despite

what might seem as really bad first date juju, the two of us

are still together 55 years later, and even though I just

watched the Monotones’ badly lip-synched 1958 Beech-Nut

Show performance of Book of Love on YouTube instead of

working on this jumble of words I’m shamelessly calling

a prose poem (mea culpa), I’d like to offer some measly clarity—

one true thing, if I may (with apologies to Anna Quindlen)

— that I have gleaned through this tangled mess of unpoetic

emotions: Erich Segal’s famous line from his silly 1970 book

Love Story, is as wrong-headed as St. Paul’s schmaltzy epistle

to the kind of love that only exists in Nora Roberts novels.

Which is also to say that in looking back at the many years

we’ve been together, I must confess here that I’ve been

too often impatient, sometimes unkind, occasionally jealous,

randomly boastful, now and again arrogant, and as I sit behind

this latticed screen of my own making, I am now certain

that love always means having to say you’re sorry. So …

whoever you are on the other side, please indulge me

for another 120 words or so and imagine this updated

cheesy scene: a 76-year-old flabby, wordy boy standing

in front of a beautiful 76-year-old girl, arms at his side,

no Whitman’s Sampler, no 9X12 Hallmark, begging

forgiveness for all the times he has been unworthy

of her devotion, not to mention this flabby, wordy, un-

hinged so-called hybrid of a poem he’s about to take out

of his back pocket, unfold and give to her as a present,

vowing to say he’s sorry whenever he fails to be the man

he swore himself to be nearly 55 years ago on August 28,

1968, which would be, then as now, ‘til death do they part.

Also, he’s saying to her, please be my Valentine.


–SL, February 2023, Port Royal, SC

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Feb 14, 2023

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love


Come live with me and be my love

And we will all the pleasures prove, That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields, Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

Feb 14, 2023
Replying to

XVII (I do not love you...)

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