I carefully lifted the long, narrow picture from my dining room wall. It was an antique, surely, with its oval portraits of Bryant, Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, Whittier and Lowell centered on a sepia background and framed with the same kind of oak that schoolroom desks were once made of.
It must have hung in an Ohio schoolroom, I guessed, by the scrap of yellow paper taped to the back. But also taped to the back was a poem typed in red ink on another scrap of paper, also yellowed.
“To Mary on her birthday
Not each such muse in stately verse
Nor metered thread
Can claim the power to bend the years and
Chain thy eyes and heart with webs of love
And fragile fog of gracious moments gone.
My love encompasses all they give
And tops them all in dancing foam.”
My husband had typed his name on the next line, and signed above it.
When I took the picture down to dust it, I had forgotten that my husband had given it to me for a birthday present decades ago. We had gone to Wichita Falls to get new glasses. While I was having my eyes checked, he wandered next door to an antique store and instantly loved the picture. A former school teacher, he loved poets, he loved poetry, could and often did recite hundreds of line from memory and was a prodigious poet himself.
He didn’t show me his find until he got home and had time to write his own poem and tape it to the back.
I was 18 and he was 24 when we married. We were deeply and romantically in love but I worried that the romantic part would wear off and we would drift into the matter-of-fact relationship I observed with so many couples.
“But how do I know you’ll always love me?” I persisted.
“I’ll tell you,” he interrupted with a grin and a kiss. “I’ll write you poems.”
I had met him in my freshman year at college. He was editor and I society editor of the college newspaper. One Friday, I opened my book in class and there was my first poem, “To My Patchouli Blossom,” telling me he was going home for the weekend to see his mama. I couldn’t wait to get to a dictionary to find out that patchouli is a small Asian shrub which explained why I didn’t know what it was.
Over our 52 years together, there were so many poems they became commonplace. “To My Sweetheart,” they said,” and “I Love you.” I’m still running across them, in boxes and books, on shelves and in drawers.
I hung Bryant, Emerson, Holmes. Longfellow, Whittier and Lowell back on the wall. They were a birthday present — but around Valentine’s Day every year, I take them down, dust them off, reread the little poem in red ink on the back. And remember “the fragile fog of gracious moments gone.”
“How do I know you’ll always love me?” I had asked all those years ago on a hot August day in western Oklahoma. “I’ll tell you,” he’d said. “I’ll write you poems.”
Mary McClure lives in Lawton.