Embracing the sweet, and sometimes bitter, temptation of love this season, with poems by Michael Schneider, John Davis and Rachel Michaud.
This edition of Burning Bright is dedicated to our valentines, whoever and wherever they may be. The good news — or bad news, depending on your perspective — is that we’re Passager, not Hallmark, so our valentines poems aren’t going to be all mushy and lovey-dovey.
Remember those days long ago when you were just discovering lust and romance for the first time, those dances in the gym, those moments behind the bleachers at the football games, the indecision in the movie theater about whether or not to let your hand touch that other person’s hand, that person who was so out of your league… but you could dream, couldn’t you?
Mike Schneider said, “She was a cheerleader, out of my league, but I had a big crush. I could feel she liked me, though there was no hope romantically. I’d hoped to reminisce about some of this with her at a class reunion, but she died from M.S. before I could do that.” Here’s his poem “About Time.”
Accordion bleachers rolled back
flat to the wall where nervous boys
clustered & postured to hide how much
we didn’t know. Ceiling lights dimmed
to moonglow, up came Vinton’s velvet
tenor. I mustered inner stuff. You & I fit
each other, oozed across the gym floor like
torn edges of continents rejoined. We moved
& didn’t in slow surge of molten time.
Your dress was blue & shiny. I think
it was made of glue. Your soft places
said unspoken Welcome. My leg, how
did it get here? — I wondered. Why
this rush of sunrise inside me? Your
eyes, also blue, deeper than I had world
to know, said Dreamer. I faltered. You
tugged me closer, shore to lapping sea,
warmth at my ear, a voice: About time
you learned to slow dance. Why does
music end? I was never more endlessly
seventeen. Words that love to play
hide & seek come in too late to tell you.
Michael Schneider’s poem “About Time” from Passager Issue 61.
John Davis writes about that same nervous anticipation from the other end of the spectrum. He says that several years after his divorce, he reentered the dating world. He said, “As I grew closer to a certain woman, I knew our romance had approached the kissing stage. After a long time of not kissing, did I still have it in me?” Here’s his poem “You Slide Your Wishes into Your Lips.”
When you haven’t kissed anyone in three years,
you wonder what will happen when you lean in.
Will your lips panic or slide a bumpy slide
against her lips, a cross country ski glide
that goes awry? What if you slide off, do a face plant?
It’s a full yard sale on the couch with bumped
heads that bruise. You fetch two ice packs. This
is not the cushy cuddle you had planned. These
are not the moans of lust but the groans
and throbs of knocking headaches. You stare
at her and wonder if love is this tough. Ice has
burned a brain freeze into your scalp. You expect
lightning bolts to scar your skin and romance
to be permanent agony like the eagle pecking
Prometheus. But now on the couch
after peach pie and cinnamon spice, you notice
the cut hydrangeas give off an amber glow
as smooth as her skin. You touch her knee.
May I kiss you?
“You Slide Your Wishes into Your Lips,” John Davis’s poem from Passager Issue 71.
And finally, a valentine not to a romantic interest, but to a child. Rachel Michaud said that
after years of infertility, she gave birth to a healthy son, and even as she applauded every step he took, she was also aware that every step took him further away from her.
I found a deep well.
I keep hauling up
love like water
one more day.
When you cried
I answered word, touch, milk.
We both obeyed
the clock of hunger.
Your face became
I learned to read
the signs of weather.
Today you dress yourself
and leave the house.
I wait for you
to bring back news.
What I didn’t teach you
the world teaches you.
What I do not know
you teach me.
Rachel Michaud, “Mother to Son” from Passager Issue 69.
To subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.