Upstairs on Valentine’s Day
Poems from the heart for the middle-aged living in two story houses.
DISTANCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER
Olga had never rented a room in her house to a complete stranger.
She breathed a sigh of relief when my morbidly obese body stood at her door.
“You have the master bedroom and bath on the first floor.”
“That really suits me.”
“My bedroom and office are upstairs,” she said reassured.
I spent my days at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center losing weight.
Some weeks later Olga returned from her lab at Duke and headed upstairs.
“What’s this,” she exclaimed.
There was a red rose on her pillow.
BOOKED FOR LIFE
My first date with Olga was inadvertently on Valentine’s Day. It was on a weekend night when Olga would not have to be at her Duke University lab the next morning. I was emotionally bummed by my long distance marital doings back in Baltimore. Olga thought a movie might cheer me up. Instead we emerged somberly from a movie that depicted the Nazi pursuit of Russian partisans in Ukrainian forests. Our surprise came when at dinner the waitress handed us the special Valentine’s Menu.
Thus began those flirty conversations that keep people emotionally limber during down times while waiting fo the real thing to happen. As we broke free from the bitter cold of February, my approaching departure date in April started to take on crisis proportions. When Olga started to talk about getting another tenant, I determined that I would continue to rent the room - present or not. But being called “tenant” hurt me unexpectedly, and so I wrote my first poem to Olga.
TENANT. That is what she called him in her North Carolina kitchen - suddenly as cold as February. Money safely defined their transactional relationship leaving other possibilities to be discovered outside of meaning. FRIEND. That is what she called him when she sensed his expectations approaching heights she dared not climb. Eventually a warm front would make redundant their nightly vodka, and he would leave her house in early April. What will she call him then? The poems structure reveals my methodology which started out with a vertical spelling of her last name (bolded here for illustration) which then inspired each line. Tougher than I thought. And so began a regular outpouring relevant to moments in our relationship, culminating in the proposal below. Russians are as romantic as Italians - luckily.
GREAT FOR VALENTINE’S DAY
About the Book
Her presence in his life was unexpected—she a landlord, he a tenant; she a vibrant Russian-born scientist, he a journalism professor near retirement. He had come to Durham on a mission to save himself at the world-famous Duke Diet and Fitness Center. She was a brilliant neuroscientist breaking new ground in the labs at Duke on the link between short-term memory and schizophrenia. She was inaccessible—a demanding lab schedule, a deep commitment to her Orthodox faith, emotionally isolated by the untimely death of her fiancé ten years previous. Her only escape was to lose herself in Russian literature, especially poetry. He sensed she cared when she emerged from her private reading nook upstairs, to spend more time reading on the adjacent couch, as he watched his nightly TV shows. He had much to say to her, and he intuitively knew that the best way to command her attention was to be as engaging as Pushkin. And so began the flow of poems until one day he jokingly asked her, “If I write you one hundred poems, will you marry me?” Her affirmative answer caught him off guard. Now all can share the language of courtship inspired by his muse.
About the Author
Prof. Ciofalo combines the sharp perceptions of the journalist with the lyrical expression of the poet, uniquely documenting a courtship that spans a cultural and generational divide. This book puts into practice his observations in an earlier article, “The Muse in the News” (AWP), linking poetry and journalism.
Or try AMAZON