Tuesday

Feb. 9, 2010

This Year's Valentine

by Philip Appleman

They could
   pump frenzy into air ducts
     and rage into reservoirs,
   dynamite dams
     and drown cities,
   cry fire in theaters
     as the victims are burning,
but
I will find my way through blackened streets
   and kneel down at your side.

They could
   jump the median, head-on,
     and obliterate the future,
   fit .45's to the hands of kids
     and skate them off to school,
   flip live butts into tinderbox forests
     and hellfire half the heavens,
but
in the rubble of smoking cottages
   I will hold you in my arms.

They could
   send kidnappers to kindergartens
     and pedophiles to playgrounds,
   wrap themselves in Old Glory
     and gut the Bill of Rights,
   pound the door with holy screed
     and put an end to reason,
but
I will cut through their curtains of cunning
   and find you somewhere in the moonlight.

Whatever they do with their anthrax or chainsaws,
however they strip-search or brainwash or blackmail,
they cannot prevent me from sending you robins,
all of them singing: I'll be there.

"This Year's Valentine" by Philip Appleman. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Alice Walker (books by this author) born in Eatonton, Georgia (1944).

It's the birthday of Irish playwright and novelist Brendan Behan (books by this author) born in Dublin (1923).

Valentine's Day is this weekend, and we're observing it all week with love letters from the literary world.

Franz Kafka (books by this author) wrote stories about human beings transformed into vermin; unsettling legal battles over unspecified crimes; and a father who sentences his son to death by drowning. Kafka is often thought of as neurotic, and rarely as romantic, but he wrote a great many love letters — many of the anguished, helpless variety — to a Berlin woman to whom he was engaged for five years. Their relationship was carried out almost entirely by letters.

In the autumn of 1912, he wrote to Felice Bauer about how much she had become inseparable from his composition process, and also how anticipation of her writing kept him awake at night. He wrote:

"Lately I have found to my amazement how intimately you have now become associated with my writing, although until recently I believe that the only time I did not think about you at all was while I was writing.

In one short paragraph I had written, there were, among others, the following references to you and your letters: someone was give a bar of chocolate. There was talk of small diversions someone had during working hours. Then there was a telephone call. And finally somebody urged someone to go to bed, and threatened to take him straight to his room if he did not obey, which was certainly prompted by the recollection of your mother's annoyance when you stayed so late at the office. — Such passages are especially dear to me; in them I take hold of you, without your feeling it, and therefore without your having to resist.

... [It takes] every imaginable effort to get to sleep — i.e., to achieve the impossible, for one cannot sleep and at the same time be thinking about one's work and trying to solve with certainty the one question that certainly is insoluble, namely, whether there will be a letter from you the next day, and at what time. The night consists of two parts: one wakeful, the other sleepless, and if I were to tell you about it at length and you were prepared to listen, I should never finish.

Eleven days later, Kafka wrote to her:
"Fraulein Felice!
I am now going to ask you a favour which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well this is it:
Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them.
For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you.
I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don't want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that's why I don't want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you?"

And a week after that, he wrote to her:

"Dearest, what have I done that makes you torment me so? No letter again today, neither by the first mail nor the second. You do make me suffer! While one written word from you could make me happy! ... If I am to go on living at all, I cannot go on vainly waiting for news of you, as I have done these last few interminable days ...

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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