Reginald Shepherd, Valentine

By Reginald Dwayne BettsFebruary 14, 2013

Reginald Shepherd, Valentine

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]

LARB Contributor

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and father of two sons. The author of the memoir, A Question of Freedom (Avery/Penguin 2009) and the collection of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), Betts has been awarded fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, the Open Society Institute, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop and Warren Wilson College. As a poet, essayist and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, Betts writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society.



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