I was the girl they gave the safe hearts to.
–the candies with notes stamped in red.
I couldn’t be trusted with Adore or Kiss Me
Anytime because the boys knew I would.
If I did, they wouldn’t have a Nice Girl to bring
Their broken hearts. Besides I was forty pounds
overweight with the reputation as the class
Sex symbol. They had to keep the irony straight.
I have hearts to give, but they are not safe.
They poison the strong, but the weak take them.
Often becoming addicted. Hearts locked in my hope chest.
I keep my hearts potent to keep away lovers
afraid of the weight that would make me a woman.
This is the lead poem in my first poetry collection, When the Plow Cuts, a book I hope to republish in the months ahead. I wrote this in grad school in response to the baggie of candy hearts placed on my desk by my office mate. I had a crush on him. The last line comes from a dream that seemed real, of my father stretching out over top of me, while in bed, when I was a girl. When I woke up I knew it couldn’t be real because my dog would have bit his ass. My teacher told me not to be afraid of that weight.
Those years I scared men away. I scared them and scared them, until I found a man who wasn’t afraid, who taught me about charm. (I write about him in When the Plow Cuts too.) And years passed and men passed through my life, until I met Bruce, who was so powerful, we stood under a tree in the moonlight, and I tried the scare him off bit, telling him why he shouldn’t love me, but he didn’t care, and my body rippled with the connection.
This Valentine’s Day
This Valentine’s day didn’t go the way we hoped. We caught a warm day, the roads dry, and drove to Woodstock to pick up a mounting block. A friend was able to buy them in bulk and offered a deal, $40 a piece. My step stool isn’t big enough to help me get on Morgen without twisting her saddle and her back, so it was something I was looking for. Although my friend wanted them out of her barn, I wrote often saying, “Weather”. We either had a threat of a storm, a storm, or something else was going on. So Bruce and I thought Valentine’s day would be a good day to pick it up.
We drove over in our Honda Civic, only to find out that the mounting block was way too big to fit into the trunk or the back seat. Bruce didn’t want to tie down the trunk for fear it might come undone and flip into traffic, causing an accident.
We decided to turn around and get the truck and come back because weather this winter, doesn’t guarantee good driving. We couldn’t blame our friend for wanting the clutter out of her barn. But the tension rose between us. It’s a long drive back to the farm and then back again, an hour each way. When Bruce got home he had to gas up the tires. He threw gravel and ice when he turned onto the road, heading to Casey’s.
I withdrew into Facebook and scrolled past my friends praising their husbands for bouquets of flowers, chocolates, thoughtful presents. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, work the weak spot in our marriage like a loose tooth. I love presents. Bruce doesn’t. Giving and receiving gifts are my love language. Doing things for others is Bruce’s.
A farm wife, years ago, told me her husband is the same way. She said she simply buys what she wants, wraps them at Christmas with tags to her from her husband. I’ve been doing that ever since, though I can get a little carried away. This year I bought a microphone that fits on my iPhone so that I can record podcasts. (I am thinking of making a podcast of my novel on here, and working on the sequel.) I also bought books. (I am so hungry to read these days, hungry for words.)
We were so tired from the consistent storms, that we didn’t even buy each other Valentine’s cards. But as I scrolled through my friends’ celebrations of their husband’s gifts, I thought, “But here Bruce is driving another hour to get this stupid mounting block.” He helps with water chores, and fixes windows, and walks the dogs, and does the dishes, and holds me first thing in the morning.
But I was rattled from listening to a Jordan Peterson podcast where he spoke how our resentments are valuable information, that we can confront these with our partner, turn toward conflict, even though it’s hard, and try to talk about what is bothering us. We should let ourselves be dangerous. This sounds wise, standard psychological advice, and while I admire Peterson’s Canadian accent, I’m not sure that opening cans of raw meat is such a good idea. It’s like feeding the lion of resentment and anger until she prowls through the house. I have learned that it’s not always good to go to the angry place, that we don’t have to go there in the first place. It’s too much work to write down and venting to friends just drives them off. Dr. Fred Luskin in Forgive for Love says, “When we finally stop resenting the person we live with, we almost inevitably find that love blossoms in our lives. Happiness will grow in your relationship as forgiveness replaces resentment” (79.)
I have learned when things are awry to imagine the good times, to seat those in my mind, instead of what’s broken. Luskin says, “If you tell a cold and unloving story it can damage your relationship, whereas a loving and forgiving story can help strengthen the love you feel for your partner. The health of your relationship is up to you” (200).
I also believe we should love our spouses as they are. I believe that is where love begins. M. Scott Peck said this in The Road Less Travelled, a book I read on the train to New York city from Albany, sometime during the terrible grief for my parents. He says, “As has been mentioned, couples sooner or later fall out of love, and it it is at the moment when the mating instinct has run its course that the opportunity for genuine love begins” (118).
How we Celebrated
We stopped at the Public House for lunch and sat quietly with each other. Bruce said the fries were excellent. I enjoyed my onion soup and half Rueben sandwich. After, we explored the Train Store and talked to the owner about my Santa Fe engine that I’d gotten as a five year old. He was shocked my parents allowed me to have one as a young girl because many women my age come into his shop wanting their own trains. Their parents wouldn’t let them play with boys’ toys. I was incredulous because trains don’t seem exclusively a boy’s toy. I loved trains as a toddler, maybe because my grandfather worked as a boilermaker for the D and H railroad in Albany, maybe because they were beautiful, a ride to somewhere else. Maybe the romance of the rails grabbed me even then. My imaginary friend was George the engineer. That birthday my parents put our party on a train ride from Altamont to Albany, when passenger trains still ran that route.
Bruce made me an engine and caboose out of wood to replace my brother’s engine and caboose that disappeared in a box, when my parents’ house was sold. Bruce sent flowers when I went back to pack my parents’ papers, a broken table, and attend my brother’s widow’s wedding.
How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day?
Beauty for Hoar Frost
The other morning the air was just right to make hoar frost. I was reminded of these verses: “He give snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow” (Ps. 147: 16 – 18). Here are some of the things we saw.