Feb. 14, 2008


by Tony Hoagland

She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It's six-thirty in the morning
and she's standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she's trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
wasn't making
because it wasn't there.

No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands on the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it.

"Windchime" by Tony Hoagland from What Narcissism Means to Me. © Greywolf Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

Today is Valentine's Day, the day on which we celebrate love and especially romantic love. This day is linked to Greco-Roman February holidays devoted to fertility, in particular, the festival of Lupercalia. The romantic overtone of the holiday is in commemoration of St. Valentine, a Roman priest who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D. It's worth noting that there are many different Christian martyrs named "Valentine," and until 1969, the Catholic Church recognized 11 different Valentine's days.

Thousands of couples will exchange gifts signifying their affection for one another, including chocolate, flowers, and of course, greeting cards. One hundred eighty-eight million Valentine's Day cards will be given today, making February 14 the second most popular card-giving day of the calendar year, finishing right behind Christmas.

The tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine's Day originates from the martyr Valentine himself. The legend maintains that due to a shortage of enlistments, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in an effort to bolster his struggling army. Seeing this act as a grave injustice, Valentine performed clandestine wedding rituals in defiance of the emperor. Valentine was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death by beheading. While awaiting his fate in his cell, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with the daughter of a prison guard, who would come and visit him. On the day of his death, Valentine left a note for the young woman professing his undying devotion signed "Love from your Valentine."

On this day in 1556, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was declared a heretic by the Church of England, and shortly thereafter, sentenced to death. Cranmer is credited as a co-founder of modern Anglican thought, along with Richard Hooker and Matthew Parker. Cranmer is also notable for authoring (and plagiarizing) the first two Books of Common Prayer, which provided structure for Anglican liturgy and are still used in churches in more 50 different countries and in 150 different languages. Cranmer also wrote and published the 1550 Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which declared that sacramental objects like bread and wine, which represent the body and blood of Christ, deserve sacred respect.

Cranmer's end came at the hands of Queen Mary I, who leveled a charge of heresy on him after she reunited the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. He was imprisoned, and though he signed declarations recognizing Papal supremacy and transubstantiation, was sentenced to death at the stake, due to his involvement in the controversial divorce between King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Queen Mary's mother. He is still remembered as a martyr in the Anglican tradition.

It's the birthday of English demographer and economist Thomas Robert Malthus, born in Surrey, Great Britain, in 1766. In his 1798 essay, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus made the prediction that the world's population would outlast the globe's food supply, which would spell certain trouble for humankind. The economist leveled the greatest amount of blame on the lower social classes, who he felt were multiplying in unacceptable and dangerously high numbers. For that reason, Malthus called for an abolition of the Poor Laws, which served as a sort of social security system for 18th-century England. He felt that without the safety net of public assistance, the living conditions for the poor would become inhospitable, and the indigent would die off completely. He claimed that only "natural causes," "misery," "moral restraint," and "vice" could cull bloated populations, and as such, advocated for sexual abstinence and late marriage as acceptable population size checks.

Ironically, Malthus's works have served as major influences for two eternally warring camps. Malthus proudly extolled the fact that one of the earliest converts to his theory of population was theologian Archdeacon William Paley, who authored the influential book Natural Theology. Paley felt that the ebbs and flows in population size described by Malthus was further proof of a holy deity. Meanwhile, Charles Darwin — whose findings in the 1859 Origin of Species became the launching text for the theory of Evolution — based his thoughts on natural selection heavily on Malthus's idea of man's "struggle for survival."

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