Saturday, February 14, 2009


“We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity - romantic love and gunpowder.” Andre Maurois

One of the many useful lessons I garnered from Second Wave feminism was the understanding that romance does not equal love, especially love between equals. It relies on fantasy and/or objectification to sweep away those who indulge in it. Thus, I've mostly not celebrated Valentine's Day except to send cards to older members of my family and to children, who appreciate expressions of love in a more down-to-earth manner.

Several years ago, however, I hosted a valentine-making party at my house the week before the day, providing a supply of card stock, lace, paper doilies, paints, glitter, and all the other materials to give folks free creative rein. To my surprise, everyone I'd invited came -- there was hardly room at my dining table for all of us. And they had a wonderful time, swapping ideas, admiring each other's handiwork, telling stories about old girlfriends. One of the women who attended was someone who had known me since I was 19: Back then, I'd had a throbbing crush on her, concealed because I had a jealous lover at the time and also this object of my affection was several years older than me. When she moved back to Austin, we became friends again and there was again a flicker of attraction.

This woman, brilliant, kind, a gifted radio producer and poet, spent all evening on a single card, bestowing upon it all her bells and whistles. It emerged as an intricate work of art. I was so astonished when she gave it to me, before leaving shyly into the night, that I fumbled any graceful response. One of those moments I wish I could get a do-over for. If you're reading this, you short Aquarian you, let me just say: I have regrets about my failure to respond. Serious regrets.

Most of my poetry has been saturated with love but usually not of the romantic variety. I've not written a lot of poems to women I desired. But every now and then, I've composed a love ballad. After the fold are a few of the ones I'm not too embarrassed to share.

Love to you all this day, love of the most profound and lasting variety.


There is a heart of winter promise
a dark moon hush
in how I am learning
to love you.

I wake up early,
sly out to lunch alone,
take longer baths,
so I'll have time
to think about you.

© Maggie Jochild; written at 5:40 a.m. on 19 May 1984


Skin the color of cambric tea
at times darkening
into the shell brown
of early pecans

Underneath baggy shirts,
soft chinos,
your muscles
like oiled wood

We are downtown clerical workers,
a block apart.
Despite all clues
we blend in on the subway
on the streets
except when desire trips me
and I want to suck at your neat stitches
till they give way
the heat pouring into my mouth.

© Maggie Jochild, written 1:40 p.m. on 14 September 1984
(these first two poems were both written for Janice K.)

From 1985 to 1991, I did not write any poetry. I was involved with the partner who was the major relationship of my life, and I told myself I stopped writing because I'd found someone to whom I could tell everything, negating the need to write. Such was my pathology.

I mean, can you imagine me going years not writing anything aside from letters and, perhaps once a year, a short non-fiction article?

In 1991, another woman named Maggie befriended me and, for a while, was very patient with my broken heart and terror of intimacy at the time. She was a painter who read voraciously, and we talked art and writing nonstop. She gently, persuasively, led me back into writing poetry. I of course fell for her. This is the first poem I wrote after that long silence -- for her.


Hands and feet smooth,
veined like young rattan vine
over hornbeam bark,
she has long been still.
Chose stillness.
Learned to keep her side of the walls in repair.

Now, as she piles stones
on the last windbreak,
she grins at the smell of smoke.
Amber beads
weep out through her cheeks,
and her winter-grass hair
crackles every direction.

Pulling free from the leafy earth
with a whoop,
shaking out her shoulders, she joins
the outraged blue and black magpies
who launch out beyond the canopy
on hot updrafts
from the first of the flames.

© Maggie Jochild, written 15 August 1991


I want those thighs
swelling your khakis
The meals you (grinning) heap
onto my plate
The paragraphs you must read aloud
this instant
I want your family
thick with brothers and nieces
Your preference for being home
Your scowling sulks when not one
of my charms
will distract you from your self.
I want your smell like sun on wood
Your redeye-gravy skin
The way your dogs are sure of you
Your plowboy stride
and Amherst vocabulary:
A woman of appetites.
And my own do not dismay you.

© Maggie Jochild, written 24 September 1994


Having palmed smooth my own current
until there is no splash no soak
No flooded cellars Nothing to
wake you, send you into dark summer rooms
looking for the drip
seeping through the dressed stone
of your paid-for house
When you step out of bed your bare feet will meet dew
When you lean against the wall a stain will map your shoulders
You’ll dream of quenchings, think you smell rain
It will be me

© Maggie Jochild, written at 7:20 p.m. on 15 June 1996; rewritten 20 June 1996; rewritten again 31 August 2004


All those years, sharing
a neighborhood, a net
of friends--
but we weren't ready,
hadn't yet shucked
enough skin, untangled
the claptrap keeping me
from turning to you
as I have this autumn,
asking your name
as hungry to hear you
as if I knew your stories
would fall like bread
into my upturned hands.

© Maggie Jochild, written at 12:40 p.m. on 13 November 1996, rewritten 1:00 a.m. on 26 January 1997


She sinks slowly
her beryl and pistachio dissolving
into the cobalt around her
But near the last, when she is just
a dotted line
a double exposure,
those finned feet flicker,
her head stretches eager,
and she’s vanished,
wild to be rid of me
and my lumbering, time-tallying ways.

She can go for as long as a year
without coming up for air.

We touch where we can,
aware that others believe
we should not even catch sight of each other
much less curl into trust.
But the meaning must have been there
all along, a rhythm in the chaos
that is itself irregular,
reproduced perhaps by combining
Pacific plate swells
and ursine winter heartbeat.

We’ve joined,
and suddenly thousands of other languages
are dialing up from babble into creole,
a new music in my everyday.
I grub through my books,
attend gatherings, sleep hard
but a filament of me is tracking
always tracking
her chilled air-filled sufficiency
circling the globe's currents.

© Maggie Jochild, written 11:45 p.m. on 23 December 1997


This hushed air between us, this pad
of caution, this dancing space
I mean to fill
with dripping hands,
with cries as sharp as
shutter-slanted sunlight,
with every kind of old-fashioned clue
you’ll need to know me
know me well
during the years coming to us.

© Maggie Jochild, written at 8 p.m. on 9/22/98


I sit across from you
A length of air drained dry between
The better to look at you, my dear
I stop pretending anyone else is in the room
You notice, over and over
until your grin is unquenchable
Later, I will have the sly courage
to steal a chair beside you
Damp down the sudden sheet lightning
by giving you my hand
Letting you lace my fingers into a waiting cup
for your restless thumb
We are small-handed, big-mouthed women
Your boots clatter like buckeyes
poured into a wooden bowl
Carrying your short legs, eager thighs
as you move around with an energy
and mobility I’ll never know again
I make jokes behind your back
Teasing the deaf
But it is besotted humor, fooling nobody
There’s little enough overlap
and you leave tomorrow
We are too old to choose
obsidian spark over
sensible steady
One of the ungrateful lessons of
our shared middle age is
how not to fall in love
But tonight I just watch you
Holding in my mouth
the small sip allotted me
If it’s not you that will creak open
my rusted privacy, then another will
And meanwhile I take
Oiling where I find it.

©Maggie Jochild, written at 11:40 a.m. on 27 March 2002


It isn't the kiss that's stealing my mind
It's that moment when I will know
beyond any doubt You want
to kiss me With all that would
imply given our age, sobriety
stuffed storerooms of experience
A moment that could occur
any day now

I once drove home two hours
through sheet lightning
pounding the blackland prairie
with flash and sound, almost
continuous The air reeked
of ozone, all cattle were huddled
in northwest corners, and the
hair on my arms stood straight up
The night sky breathed in gulps
Premonition was over
I was in the thick of it

© Maggie Jochild, written at 1:51 p.m. on 25 March 2004


That girl who, when I was four
taught me how to tie my shoes
Sitting on a carport's edge
in a subdivision new with
backyards not yet fenced apart
so all the kids on our long block
played from one end to the other
ignoring boundary lines and adults
until we were called once, then twice
home for dinner -- That girl, age eight
who put my sneaker in her lap
held her fingers over mine
and coaxed from them a big kid skill
I never thought I'd call my own
She was in no kind of hurry

I think of her as she may be now
fiftyish, maybe with silvering hair
piled up loose behind her head, in a
navy turtleneck, thick ring around her
thumb because those fingers, agile once,
are clotted and knotted closed

The way I loved her is one of the
ways I love you. Sometimes it will
be me who sits shiva with you, some-
times it is you who listens to the shame
I cannot even take to god. As if poling
up an uncharted river, the meander not just
slowly marching across plains, but calling
on us, two figures standing in the prow,
to take our turn leaning on a staff planted
through mud onto bedrock, muscling the
all-we-carry around the bend on our side
I will love you every way I can

© Maggie Jochild, written at 8:20 p.m. on 1 June 2004


kat said...

Happy Valentine's!

I've never been a fan of the fake-romantic "women really just want presents and diamonds" kind of Valentines, but I have always had affection for the way that my family would celebrate it with kids. Cookies (homemade), cards (usually sarcastic or funny) and family dinner. Even this year, when I'm all grown up, Mom and Yiayia (my grandma) stopped by my apartment yesterday with cookies (home-made jam strips and a box of store-bought Swedish ginger hearts) and a card for me.

At school yesterday, where I have guaranteed work till the middle of June(!!!!!), the preschool had a "Medieval king and queen Valentine Dance Party." The kids were mostly dressed up, in everything from overly sparkly Disney princess dresses to plastic knight armor to one kid who came as Shrek, and they all had on paper crowns that they made in class.

They danced to The Blue Danube waltz, some other instrumental pieces, French folk songs, contemporary music, some African stuff and some techno. My favorite was the techno, because half of them said "it's robot music" and began moving like robots. It was adorable beyond mention.

My co-teacher was a queen and I was a knight. It was loads of fun.

They all brought in valentines for their classmates, and with the English teacher, we had spent the week talking about love and caring and friendship, and a little bit about respect and community. Then we painted pink hearts with 3 colors of glitter paint, of course, because what's Valentines without garish, shiny, tacky craft projects!!!

liza said...

Happy Valentines day anyway. Here's to great friends!!

I spent the evening at the hairdresser with my older daughter getting her hair un dyed. She'd made it black, which was chic and sophisticated and all her friends hated it, so she spent 4 hours in the chair fixing it. I only had to be there for the last hour. And you know what? I can't think of a better way to spend V'day than with my daughters.

fie on romance. but hurrah for friends and family.