Two prickly pears in a small bowl
of old majolica posed on a silken stole
ask will you be my valentine…
recall a sweet Venetian barcarole.

Cactus creatures pocked with tiny spines
they stab the skin like quills of porcupine
they do not kill but finely cut the wounds
of will you be my valentine…

Deep red the foreground drapery is strewn
with fruitskins and a plate of macaroons
heart-shaped, in bastard amber light—
eternity is where it’s always afternoon.

The atmosphere floods with gemütlichkeit
a goblet filled and ready to be raised invites
once more, then, will you be my valentine…?
The background says: I think I might.

64 responses »

  1. Heaven forfend–you are not referring to the rosco gel when you illuminate your scene with bastard amber??

    The line ‘eternity is where it’s always afternoon’ strikes me as a great line–or is it just me struck down again with cupid’s arrow?

    • Yes, dear Prospero, to what other gel would I be referring? Phrases from my days in the theatre seem to pop up occasionally as I write a poem. And that bastard amber gel gives such a distinctive sort of pink- gold kind of light onstage that I wanted to use it here. I do wonder how anyone would paint that light, but I hope you agree it’s the best light for “always afternoon.” One could do worse than to be struck down with cupid’s arrow, methinks.

      • Naturally, I’m no stranger to the theater either, but I still can’t get used to the sharp pain of cupid’s dullish arrows.

        • The roscoe gels are like films of color that are slipped over the flood and spot lights that illumine a stage set in theatre….they change the feeling of the light from cools to warms etc…to enhance the mood of the play. The particular color called ‘bastard amber” was initially a mistake of what was meant as amber, but was so lovely in its pinkish-gold tinge that it became a regular, well-used gel. in the seventies I did a lot of volunteering to write for and direct amateur dramas with college students and later had the pleasure of learning to design lighting as well as sets in several small community theaters around Boston.

    • I adapted it from the traditional form called the “rubai”, Sylvie, which is a four line stanza with that particular scheme of rhyme and rhythm. A poem of several intertwined rubai is called a rubaiyat….like the famous one by Omar Khayyam. Thank you, I’m glad you like it!

  2. I’m so ‘Bah, Humbug!’ about these twee holidays that I find this poem very fitting with its prickly pears spines scratching at soft skin. It goes well with the poison of sugar, the need to prove love with sugar laden gifts and – one presumes – the absence of any sign of love the remaining 364 days of the year…………….. .

    • I love your “take” on this, Pauline. (I like that word “twee” also, which is not often heard around here.) I’ve come to the place where I ignore these holidays, as I agree with you. I watch very little TV, except for the so called news, and even then, am amazed at how bombarded we are this week with ridiculous commercials for Valentine’s gifts. It used to be a fairly innocent holiday— somewhat welcome, here, in the dead of winter— simply about warm hearts and the expression of affection–which may be there the rest of the year, but maybe not often enough expressed. Now, like so many other things, it is junk food.

      • It’s interesting isn’t it, how what was once a day that celebrated our affection for others has become a day bombarded by commercial enterprises and personal expectations. I often hear young males speak about the pressure put on them by their girlfriends to ‘prove’ their love by buying them the gift of appropriate proportion [ie cost].

        Valentines Day [note the loss of the designation ‘Saint’] was never a thing here until maybe the 80’s when globalisation occurred and corporate interests started running the planet. So it has always been about what you are going to give me this year …….. and the angst of the young over will they receive anything ….. As you say, junk food for the soul!!

        • When I was a child in parochial school, in the 1950’s, St. Valentine’s was about handmade cards. At the front of the schoolroom was a large cardboard “mailbox” all decorated with red hearts and those doilies we used to cut in snowflake designs out of plain white paper. There we “mailed” our handmade affectionate greeting cards to each other… at recess time, and were allowed a few little heart shaped hard candies with what I thought were dumb messages on them like “Be mine.” I don’t recall that adults did much of anything. One time my mother baked a heart shaped cake for the occasion. That was it. I’m glad I never suffered that angst phase you mention….not even for a smidgin of a moment! 🙂

  3. So charming. I’d have been happy with the title alone – such a blissful sensation contrast ‘still life’ and ‘prickly pears’. (I lived in Gibraltar as a child and I loved them, but oh the misery of the spines before you got to the juice).

    • Those prickly pears…we don’t often have them around here, but in Gibraltar I imagine they were quite available. They do indeed cause you to work, maybe suffer a little, before you are rewarded with their sweetness.

  4. “eternity is where it’s always afternoon”. Cynthia I bow to you for thinking this line.
    As for Valentine Day, growing up in India in the seventies and eighties, we knew very little about this day. I still don’t know much about it. However I read Hardy’s Far from the madding crowd in school and I remember a reference to this and a misunderstanding that was caused because of it……

    • It was never a really important holiday, Shubha. I suspect it was one of those excuses for raising spirits during the long cold, snowy winters in this part of the world. There was a legend about a Saint Valentine that became the reason for expressions of love. The symbol was a red heart, and the Greek god Cupid who was represented by a a figure with wings who would fly about and symbolically shoot “arrows” into the heart of a beloved. All silly, but fun. In latter days it has become over-commercialized, like so many things, and just another occasion of having to buy stuff to give as gifts….or else!

  5. Okay, I love the drollery of this. Yes, there’s a vivid still life, but that contrast between that sweetness and the prickles, which is indeed love as it lasts over a lifetime, is spot on and with a touch of good humor. I thought this when I first read it, then listened, and lo, felt confirmed!

  6. This poem made me work. I had to look up quite a few words like barcarole and majolica but not, oddly enough, “gemütlichkeit”. Thanks to the person who asked about the bastard amber light and your explanation, and bless Google images so I could see what a prickly pear looks like, it all came together once I read the poem again. Maybe it’s just me but I see the dark side of love poking through with the prickly pear image. Be careful, my valentine. As always, a rich read. I picture you with a Mona Lisa smile as you read the comments.

    • I am chuffed, as the Brits say, that you found it a worthy use of your time to look up those words, And I had a good chuckle over “gemütlichkeit” because I did stop to consider that it might be a stumbling block, until my research told me it is now an accepted/borrowed word in English. The bastard amber, I figured, works even if you don’t know about theatre lighting gels…”amber” and “bastard” have their own associations. And you are absolutely right about the Mona Lisa smile….I get great enjoyment out of the variety of “takes” that come through in the comments, and have always been put off by those who analyze and dissect a poem in search of the “correct’ interpretation….they remind me of those augurs of the past who killed animals so they could read the entrails. How a poem strikes different people is a constant amazement to me; a mystery of language, and a pleasure. Thank you, Susanne!

      • It is a mystery and that’s what makes putting your work “out there” in a public way such as blogging so much fun and so satisfying. Hearing from readers is simply the best.

        A few weekends ago I was in Toronto and visited an art gallery with a Turner exhibit. Talk about amber bastards – lots of yellow in his paintings when you see them all together. Something I hadn’t noticed before. Anyway, one of his supporters was John Ruskin and Turner said that “He knows a great deal more about my pictures than I do. He puts things into my head, and points out meanings in them I never intended.” Art IS mysterious just like writing and I was so amazed by this aha moment provided by the quote that I photographed it on the wall of the gallery.

  7. Sad but sweet like a prickly pear juice 🙂 I only have a common knowledge about poetic forms, but I happened to know rubai and Omar Khayam is one of my favorites. And I also love cacti 🙂 Happy Valentine’s Day!

  8. By an odd coincidence I spent yesterday morning digging up the prickly pear in our back yard. It had become too large and demanding and mercilessly stabbed every time I tried to trim the adjacent plants. I wore protection and cut off each leaf individually; and then used my secateurs to lift each into a sturdy trash bag. It took three bags. Today I am still removing little thorns from my skin but the cactus is no more. Your poem gives the pear another association, for who would have ever coupled this plant with valentine? As always your poem is well done and ever so neat, I’ll never look at a prickly pear the same away again.

    • Oh my, Jane, what a trial and tribulation! Did your cactus not bear any of those so called pears? They are a strange fruit, indeed; one we don’t find in the market very often around here, but a sweet treat when we do. How serendipitous that while I was posting a poem about them, you were sending one to that great compost in the sky. Thanks for the good chuckles. I hope your poor thorn riddled skin is recovered by now. This was certainly a strange kind of valentine celebration!

  9. Happy Valentines Day my friend – it wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t a magical creation through your words of what the day could be, or is or isn’t. One thing I know for certain all that sweetness can’t be had without a little bit of pain. My gift is a virtual Godiva chocolate for you ~

    • My German is all learned in school, and two of my three professors of German were native speakers of what they called a “southern” pronunciation. I have always loved the sounds of it.

  10. My goodness, Cynthia, what a curious Valentine’s poem with its baroque air of romance and wryly humorous message – one for the oft-rejected lovelorn, perhaps? One for the cacti with wounding spines too, maybe? It is tough on both parties, a situation like this.

    My very best,


  11. …ah, so late again to the party–(He enters Stage Left, looks around, sees no one there and yet speaks his tardy soliloquy) : I discovered we have a native cacti way up here in British Columbia–a wee one which hugs onto our mountain-ridged backyard, and sports lovely yellow blooms in June–by setting my hand on its tiny prickly-pear shaped body. Suddenly I was seeing amber dots, voice projecting out over the proscenium arch of our neighbourhood and raising my red-spotted hand in grand Macbethian horror. They aren’t pushy, but don’t like getting pushed around, yes? Thank you for piercing that made-up holiday, though as you comment, we certainly liked doing up our doiley, flour-pasted construction paper hearts while eating those candies with ‘I’m yours’ stamped on them. Thank you for all the layered imagery which hop-scotches us through multiple memories.

    • Your soliloquy is always well worth the wait, Lance; never too late. It sounds like your native cactus is a “look, but don’t touch” kind. It certainly was unkind to your advances. So much of that made-up holiday is saccharine and commercial, it’s a wonder anyone bothers with it….but we shall probably never give up on illusion…theatre….maybe….what if…..shoulda-woulda-coulda…especially around that maddening, indefinable thing called love.

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