an online magazine of fragmentary writing



Spring 2010 :: Current Issue

Shaffer, Joseph

Random Thoughts From the Prison Cell Of Saint Valentine

Joseph Shaffer

An Epistle to Lovers

11 How should we approach love? Slowly and gently, totally and deliberately will serve us well. That way our failures will not plague us, and our successes will only exult us.
2 There is the moment, and there is forever. I could not want you for one, and not need you for the other.
3 The pain of love fills your being, eroding, erasing, forever putting to rest the pain of being unloved.
4 In love with me, or simply loving me … I am not so much a fool to turn away from either of these you may see fit to offer.
5 Search and suffer all the detours along the way. Live in a constant state of preparation, and if the search is ever rewarded, seize.
6 We have each slain all the ghosts of past history, and now move forward together, new dreams fashioning new history.
7 Hundreds of miles away from me, you whisper a sweet goodnight across your pillow, and I hear.
8 You use me so well. I want it, I need it, I allow it and I love you. So short, so simple, so final.
9 You might thank me simply because I do not leave marks of love upon your neck: I thank you simply because you allow me to leave them upon your heart.
10 In one year the earth circles the sun, is born, dies, is reborn again. You are the sun I circle, turn to daily, in light or in darkness. You are my eternal phenomenon, here before we were born, here after we are gone.
11 Long before I met you, I knew you; each time I see you, I want you; always I have need of you.
12 To breathe is to live; to live is to breathe. I live and breathe to love you. To be loved by you is my claim to immortality.
13 Anything acquired without love must be attributed to lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, the seven step-brothers of love who always try to remove love from the picture.
14 These brothers come as cowards in the night; love comes as a key to enlightenment.

21 Once you gave me your body. How, now, I so wish you had given me your love as well.
2 You have come and gone; you have come and gone; you have come and gone. I long for that time when you will come and stay.
3 Reticence was dictator of her heart. For him, time proved to be the healer of nothing, and the ruler of all measure.
4 I marvel at you as you continue to stand equidistant from lack of love, and from far more than enough.
5 The words disappeared first from her eyes then from her lips, and though the words I love you never became old to him, they became lost to him as she fell out while he continued to.
6 I have my wants, you have your needs. In your life I want to be only what you need me to be.
7 I lie here, warm in my bed. Outwardly my eyes are closed; inwardly they are wide open. My vision twenty-twenty and turned toward you, and you and sleep both continue to elude me.
8 Make no mistake, I am not your God, nor that of anyone else, for though we may alike appear, I am only created in His image and with feet of clay.
9 Now that God has revealed to me that I can actually taste my life, in all its technicolor, marshmallow glory, I must remember and start to taste it much more often.
10 Dreams are the allegedly defective truths of the night, and though my wide-awake mind fights them into disbelief, I still take much pleasure and relief from my alleged defective dreams.
11 Though my manner and even my speech may appear to be incorrect, not prolific, and even at times quite unstable, with pen in hand and paper on the table, all the sloppy things I am become impeccable.
12 I found, hidden deep in the truth of you, the wall of your youth. Into it I crashed, and found survival hard.
13 It has always amazed me that you knew the trick of how to bloom so late in the afternoon of the year, and yet withhold the treat of you so late in the afternoon of my life.
14 People are my religion, and love and you and more that I hold close in that earthbound cathedral given by God, the cathedral known simply as me.
15 Here we are, parallel lines held apart by incongruent time; differing numerators with a common denominator; held together by honesty, held apart by rigid society.

31 People look and find so many ways to kill time when time really dies all too speedily and all too easily when left alone, without the help, asked for or otherwise, of anyone else. But I find without you, it dies so much harder.
2 Geometry forbids the meeting, the mating of parallel lines. Let’s break the law.
3 This bears repeating: Harsh marks of black and blue are left behind by those who make love each time as if it were their last. Those who simply love, love each time as though it were their first, leaving their mark indelibly and invisibly only upon the heart.
4 Once you held me as though you needed me. Now I know you only wanted what I needed to give.
5 Here I am, frail, elusive love. Reserved, held in reserve, awaiting recall. A soldier wounded but wanting, hidden assets needing to be used, unemployed waiting to be employed. I am as an outlaw upon the scaffold, at the firing wall or kneeling before the guillotine awaiting final earthly fulfillment, and you are my great cause.
6 I wait for you in wonder, and wonder why I wait for you.
7 If my love for you is revealed by one small twinkle in God’s eye, then let Him do with my soul what He will when I die.
8 If clocks and schedules, wise men and wise fools are to dictate my way and what I should be, then let me kick off the traces, enjoy passing time and passing faces until my time to look into the face of God, even if only for a single moment.
9 Make a fist. Open it. Air. Inhale. Exhale. Air. Do you know what I would do with air? Squash it, naked, between us.
10 If the human body is mostly water, love me until I’m dry. If you can’t do that, then just wring me out a little, please.
11 I must love you solely, tender to you all matter, for I will not offer you a weak cup nor walk on eggshells.
12 When God takes the sunshine away, He leaves you behind, a sliver of light sliced into my life brightening it into heated wonder.
13 Each time I see you I want you; all those times I don’t see you I want you; I need you always.
14 You pop in and out of my mind like a kernel of popcorn skipping through the grease, and I know I could not stop with only a single taste of you.
15 I must always remember, harbored inside of her is a woman, a lady and a little girl. One to be loved, one to be respected and one never to be forgotten. The real man strokes all three.
16 The photograph is black and white and but a single dimension of her, until the phone rings. Then she is there, stretching in his ear, and suddenly the photograph is colored with promise.
17 There is no need to reveal past history, for I cannot judge, much less punish, you. Old ghosts are like wet clothes; they dry out in the light of the Son.

41 She counts coup with unparalleled ease, wins all the battles but loses the war, for the only coup which really counted got away.
2 Once I loved to watch you awaken, until you awakened once, and said, What in the world are you looking at?
3 I would never say you cannot care for yourself. What I would say is I am that someone who would care for you as much as, or more than, you do.
4 Days of the week are rather like weeds. We chop them down and cast them out, allow them to rot and to ferment in the corners of our mind only to find other days come and grow from the experiences we gather and know from days gone by.
5 I held my tongue, bridled flippant phrase, reined in obvious innuendo, curbed practiced and patented lines … and lost. Perhaps I should have whipped you with it.
6 Your smile rings a bell, and your eyes … ah, the soul, there is the cord by which the bell is rung, and your arms are the cathedral into which I am called to worship by the bell.
7 In your need, you reached out; in my need, I reached out. We touched. Now that you are gone, I wonder which of us had the greater need … you to be loved, or me to love.
8 Even if there was a law against grasping at straws, I would still grasp at the straws of you as you continue to dart from shadow to shadow in my mind’s sky.
9 When I look at you, into eyes green with youth, full of trust and truth, I know my sights are set only that high and I dare not sacrifice myself for anything less.
10 Each time you leave I expect you never to return. When you do I am happy again. Those times between are hard times, and sad.
11 There are two opposites here: the hell of being apart and the heaven of being together. I have learned we must suffer one so we may achieve the other … but when?
12 It is not my place to sully us with regret. I had rather met you once, had you once and loved you forever, than never.
13 The sun darts and dodges clouds like wheat, layered in the sky. With your hand in mine we could reach that harvest waiting there, catch that bright ball bouncing so high. With practiced motion and skill someday … why did you take your hand away?
14 I would call you, but I’d rather you would want and need to call me. You know I’m waiting, and you would not interrupt me at all.
15 Once upon a time there were three women who loved him. Then one passed on to a cryptic grave, two on to the beds and children of other men, and the love, the heart, the soul are now but the trunks of burned trees, wheat wasting in the fields of fall and dry stalks covered by an early frost.
16 As we crossed the beach toward the hiss of surf on sand, you stumbled. I took your hand, looked deep into your eyes, found the apple and bit from it. Now, many years deep into old history, I am not sorry for what I found in and bit from your eyes there, somewhere west of Eden.
17 Suddenly, the profound is not what I want, but you any time, any where to speed my climbs, slow my descents, shelter my ego, bandage my worldly wounds and to keep me in touch with God.
18 Now, wanton and wasted, I wonder why you gave your treasure to me, left your blood upon my sheets, on my conscience and deep in my memory if you did not love me.

51 Two pillows and empty sheets now waste away in quiet sadness, glare at me in lonely anger as I stalk the hall, return to the barren valley of loveless couch.
2 As we both explode, I know I do not care where she has been or where she may go. She is always my forever virgin each and every time.
3 I cleaned the house today. So, everything is in its place, caught in the limbo of cleanliness, all waiting for you. Should alien sleep defeat my patient wait, the porch light will still be on, the door unlocked and I am certain you still know how to awaken me.
4 What kind of love is it that asks for nothing, but wants everything? Certainly it is the kind which would want to be remembered well … remember me.
5 It must be that I am something of a sentimentalist, for now and then I do visit that favorite pew I visited with you, drive slowly by the house where you and I searched and found each other, camp once again at that campground where rain still plays the matching and magic tempo of you and me, and of memory. And to memory which spawns sentiment, and to sentiment which feeds memory, I scrape, I bow and I weep.
6 The August air is sluggish, lazy and sweet. Sweeter still is you lying here with me exploring the possibility we could continue, and every month could be August.
7 A bowl of popcorn, a glass of iced Coca-Cola and thou … how I wish I had said that to you our last time around … or did I when I was Khyyam and you were simply you?
8 Once around the mulberry bush and she was suddenly gone. Did you ever try to stuff smoke back into a smokestack, to sow and harvest with bad seed, to take a beautiful photograph with an exposed negative?
9 Your loving when I was struggling means more to me than any I find now, for now I realize you gave it with childish elation and without reservation.
10 Please allow me my precarious perch just outside your circle of life. In its weakness it allows my eyes to touch, when yours do not, my words to your ears if not to your heart and once in a while … ah, once in a while, your hand upon my arm if only for emphasis.
11 Were we never to meet, to mate, to mold, to take each unto each and still love, wherein that love could there exist sin. For God so loved the world … Were we to meet, to mate, to mold, to take each unto each, come together as in a single skin, cleave and cling to and fro, live and love free from the chains always surrounding us, would not therein lie love, and wherein that love could there exist sin? He gave His only begotten Son … For which of us has not sought and found love, asked and had it given to us, knocked hard at its door and the door did open? So that all who believe in Him shall have life everlasting.
12 I am like words looking for music, a bow without a violin, a dancer looking for the dance … are you the dance?
13 I struggle hard to write about the last love of my life with what little life I have left for that love. Unsuccessful, but undaunted, I take my name, Two Feathers, offer myself to the Great Spirit, chanting, dancing, a whirling dervish in a roadside rest stop.
14 Let this be unto you a lesson of love and the law: love is the supreme gift of a benevolent God; the law is written by the supreme ego of men.

61 That day I first met you, did you hear me coming?
2 Did you find it so much easier to draw the shades, turn away and return the way you came, leaving the door swinging upon its rusty hinges?
3 Each night I take you gently in my mind, softly to our bed and we lie together too many miles apart to count.
4 You always did look down your little nose at me, while all I ever wanted was for you to look up at me and love.
5 I carefully shine my practiced face, my preferred personality, hold below the surface, reserve for you and this paper the scuffed Christian, worn heel and now half-souled.
6 I am high, my senses heightened by your angry letter proclaiming your love, and wishing death to me.
7 There must be someplace in this dusty border town where we can take sandwiches and a swim, dry our bodies in green grass, talk there and tumble there. To find that swimming hole where this can all begin, I need your eyes. You know this dusty town. I only came down, or go down to get to know you.
8 Her heart, full of past pain, ached differently for him, and she stained him red with the blood of her love. She became the coup, constantly caught on the mark, so wanting him to miss just once … and so afraid he might.
9 I have known this adversary much too long now. We are always toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball, alone or in crowds. I knew him when I was with you, and I know him now. This loneliness.
10 The storm retreats as slowly as the night. Both mark time to the faltering beat of a metronome in serious need of rewinding, and exactly matching the measure of all time passed sans you, sans love.
11 I’m patient day after day, but also impatient for us to cleave, so that means I’m patient minus the space and the apostrophe.
12 Look with evil on others and evil you will receive in return. Look with love. Perhaps others won’t change, but you will have.
13 If one gram of love can redeem the sins of a lifetime, then our love has redeemed all the sins of souls departed and all those sins to come.
14 Poetry is the use of a minimum amount of words to maximize a thought.

71 To write is to live, for who can write who has not lived? I’ve lived and would write for a living, but how long can a man live if he is starving to death, be it for food or for love?
2 Has anyone told you today that you are beauty personified? If not look to me, I’m qualified, for that and all about you I adore, and I’d tell you each morning as I did the night before.
3 Sans sun, sans moon, sans Thomas Alva Edison, you light my life and add a beauty I have never known before.
4 I haven’t much, but what I have I want to share with you, and, someday when I achieve heights I seek, I want to share the view only with you.
5 Like that proverbial frog of old and his queen, come, hold, kiss in kind and mold from this cat your king.
6 Death I know I can never overcome or conquer, but when I go, be it Heaven or hell, you can bet my life he’ll know he’s been fought long, hard and well.
7 Payment in full to the memory of love always, always adds up to insufficient funds.
8 When our love dies, it will pass on to become a cinder lodged in the eye of God, prompting tearful rain.
9 Is your love for me a raw nerve, hurting and aching with each twist and turn you take? Let me heal it.
10 The most difficult lesson God attempts to teach man is love; perhaps man will learn the lesson someday.
11 All I want in my life is to be the love of your life. Ahavat chaim sheli.
12 Ego feeds on pride; pride comes before the fall. Both live here in me, and both were the dictators of my failure with you.
13 All questions become rhetorical as I realize that none of life matters unless I can die in your arms.
14 You say the only thing standing between us is God. Isn’t that exactly where we want him to be?
15 I have become old, fat and ugly, but my love for you is forever young, slim and beautiful.
16 If we were to love, how would I kiss you? Standing before you, my head bent to your lips? Kneeling before you in a worshipful position? Or would I simply lay with you and kiss you all over?
17 Jesus Christ is a friend of mine. He is always there, peering over my shoulder and whispering Do this and Don’t do that, trying hard to prevent my decline and fall.
18 Any time spent without you is time spent without love.
19 I don’t have the time or the patience for the chase, but enough of each to care for the catch.
20 Which was more foolish, me in my pursuit of you, or you for allowing me to?
21 I roll through the nights without love, a tumbleweed trolling an endless prairie with no fence to ever lean upon for rest.
22 The cavalry rides to the rescue of a few; Calvary rescues us all.

81 Our intensity lies like goose pimples on a sanguine poem.
2 Experience breeds depth, sensitivity and selectivity; to experience love goes above and beyond it all.
3 We are locked unashamedly, without prior or afterthought, to each other.
4 Saying that you will call me is simply another way of saying goodbye.
5 If I do die here in the shelter of your arms, I will die closer to Heaven than I have ever been in my life … and perhaps closer to Heaven than I will ever be after death.
6 Lust always loudly demands an answer; love never even has to ask the question.
7 Faith is what one has and holds to tightly; hope is the eternal spring from which the world drinks; love is not something one falls in and out of. It simply grows.
8 Every path, every road, every highway leads to your door. Do you hear me knocking?
9 A romantic lives to love and be loved. A pragmatist may also love, but will always question it.
10 Each time we went out, you were always the class act; I was simply the pretender.
11 Love is like a seriously good itch; it can never really be totally satisfied.
12 Once I loved you dearly; now I love you desperately.
13 What about love? Enough is never really enough, now is it?
14 If you are wondering about me, wondering about what I have learned, I will now set your mind at ease. I have learned true patience; I have learned that patience is true to memory; I have learned that loneliness is truly the vulgarity of life; I have learned that uncertainty is my permanent bedfellow; I have learned that procrastination is the avoidance of the final truth; I have learned that I will always be somewhere you are not.
15 Alas, now the gaoler comes, and I must close this epistle of love. Of my love. Here love is displayed on my sleeve, is exposed to the bone. No. Much further. To its marrow. It is baked by the sun, cleansed by the rain and forever growing. Though my fate is sealed, my faith is alive and well as I go to meet the Master, from Whom all love flows. In the beginning God gave us free will; in the end His love will not forsake us.

—From your Valentine

Saint Valentine was buried on the 14th of February AD 269. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church who married young Christian men and women, even though it was against Roman law. Emperor Claudius had him jailed, but befriended him. When Valentine tried to convert him to Christianity, Claudius had him put to death. While awaiting the sentence to be carried out, it is said that the jailer’s daughter befriended Valentine. He is reported to have performed the miracle of restoring her hearing during that time. His last act was to write her a note, signing it, From your Valentine.

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