Reginald Shepherd, Valentine

February 14, 2013   •   By Reginald Dwayne Betts

REGINALD SHEPHERD's "You, Therefore" has an unforgettable first line, that rare thing in contemporary poetry: “You are like me, you will die too, but not today.” In fact, Shepherd’s poem is an abundance of dope lines that have been in my head for years. I say: "Home is nowhere, therefore you, / a kind of dwell and welcome" and think of my woman. I say: “words spill from your mouth in waves” and think of myself. And then I think of Robert Philen, and how Shepherd’s love for him inspired a poem that has given me a way to understand what I want to say to my wife, a way to recognize what I want my wife to say to me.


“You, Therefore” is a masterpiece, because it allows us to do with it what we should be able to do with all great poems: recite them to our loves as if they were our own and know they express something we are always, only, moving towards.


 


Reginald Shepherd, “You, Therefore”


You are like me, you will die too, but not today:   


you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:   


if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been   


set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost   


radio, may never be an oil painting or


Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are


a concordance of person, number, voice,


and place, strawberries spread through your name   


as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me   


of some spring, the waters as cool and clear


(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),   


which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:   


and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium


or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star   


in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving


from its earthwards journeys, here where there is   


no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,


when there was snow), you are my right,


have come to be my night (your body takes on   


the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep   


becomes you): and you fall from the sky


with several flowers, words spill from your mouth


in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees   


and seas have flown away, I call it


loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,   


a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,


and free of any eden we can name                                                     [more Valentine's Day poems]