Sep. 16, 2007

Valentine for Zephyr, Age 12

by Francette Cerulli

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Poem: "Valentine for Zephyr, Age 12" by Francette Cerulli from The Spirits Need To Eat. © Nine-Patch Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

Valentine for Zepher, Age 12

The night before valentines are due,
I take you to the movie about Vincent
whose paintings you love. Too late
I realize it's a mistake. You knew about his ear
and you know the definition of prostitute,
but neither one of us was ready
to see him cut himself until he bled,
see him in the brothel
with his rotten teeth and his real women.

On the way home in the starry night we hold hands,
wonder what his parents must have been like,
what cruelty may have happened to him,
and you show me the belt of Orion,
clean and shining and always in place.

Remember this forever, then:
I cannot imagine not loving you,
even when this body is gone.

So if I ever die, look up into the dark
and find me hundreds of times there,
each place you can faintly imagine a line
tracing the shape of a valentine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the English writer known for his play The Beggar's Opera, John Gay, (books by this author) born to a poor family in Barnstaple, England (1685). The Beggar's Opera, first performed in 1728, is a social and political satire that he wrote for England's middle and lower classes. The opera's heroes are a beggar, a highwayman, a jailer's daughter, and a few prostitutes, and they act out the human corruption Gay saw in all levels of English society and government.

It was on this day in 1620 that the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World. The passengers were mostly members of a Protestant congregation who believed that the only way to practice their religion freely would be to separate themselves from the Church of England. They called themselves Separatists or Saints, but today we call them Pilgrims.

They originally commissioned two boats for the journey: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. But when they set out for their journey, the Speedwell began to leak. They returned to England and tried to repair the Speedwell, but it was not fit for travel. So on this day in 1620, they set sail in the Mayflower, leaving the Speedwell behind. They were behind schedule, so the weather wasn't as good. With strong cross currents, the Mayflower averaged only two miles an hour. The passengers had to spend most of the 66-day journey below deck, away from the rain and cold.

There were no sanitary facilities, and there was little fresh water for washing. Many of the passengers became seasick. They ate cold food — cheese and fish or salted beef. They also ate a lot of something called "ship's biscuit," which was a kind of bread that had been baked three times in order to drive out all moisture. It could last for up to five years and had to be dunked in water to be eaten.

On December 21, just over three months after they left England, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, their new home. Only half the colonists and crew survived that first winter. But when the Mayflower returned to England in April 1621, none of the colonists chose to return with it. They all remained committed to building the colony they had started. An estimated 35 million people are direct descendants of those Mayflower Pilgrims.

It's the birthday of American novelist John Knowles, (books by this author) born in Fairmont, West Virginia (1926). He is best known for his novel A Separate Peace (1959).

It's the birthday of Henry V, the king of England immortalized by Shakespeare, born on this day in Monmouth, Wales (1387). He was the first king of England to grow up speaking and writing fluently in English. Previous kings had spoken either French or Saxon.

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