She’s back (and oh dear, writing in 3rd person mode). New chapters of books in progress, and lst chapter of Remains to be Seen coming later this month. It’s never too early to write about matters of the heart–no?

One season implodes and another launches into our orbit. Mardi Gras begins January 6 through February 16. The year of the Ox commences February 12. In the states, on January 15, we honor Martin Luther King’s birthday, and Groundhog’s Day/Imbolc on February 2nd. I decorate and celebrate all those occasions; the more, the better, except for one celebration in February, which I avoid—or semi-ignore.

On February 14, when people whisper sweet nothings, give heart shaped chocolates and send scarlet hued flowers, I taste and smell something that’s soured. I tap my chest and sense bone where there once was flesh, and meditate on the koan ‘what’s the meaning of one heart beating?’ I also hum ditties about ‘Dan Cupid, the winged squirt, who’s lost his pants and lost his shirt; he’s lost everything except his aim—which proves love’s nothing more than a losing game.’

Love is complicated, exhilarating, and dangerous—flamable and unput-outable. Crooners say it’s a thing for sale or rent; it’s even, apparently, something you can buy on an installment plan. It’s always been for hire, for begger’s and fools, and hardly surprising in the 21st century, it’s considered to be both a plague and a useful tool. Alas, the formula for love is more elusive than the philosopher’s stone.

I’ve always wondered if G. K. Chesterton had the subject of love in mind when he wrote, ‘anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.’ Someone else, years ago, described love relationships as a peculiar sort of theme park experience. It begins with a phallic shaped log fume ride through a slippery, watery tunnel of lust. Some find the cost of the ride prohibitive; some feel cheated, even when it’s free. Only a few consider the ride to be priceless. Some want more, others less of the abrupt plunge part of the ride. After a climatic splash down, the log fume gets tangled in the weedy mimosa of lost loves–and those that can–scurry from the log fume onto dry land.

The next attraction is the hall of mirrors where everyone’s image is distorted. Some images swell in size, some shrink to microscopic proportion. Nothing is as it seems. To get to the rest of the attractions, you must run the gauntlet through the midway, past hustlers and hucksters, freaks and geeks, and roulette wheel spinners. If you’re lucky and quick, you can avoid the tattoo artist, love potion dispenser, and contortionist. The ‘guess the weight of your heart’ booth is hard to resist. However, there are few winners, as no one has found a device that can accurately weigh this organ of fire, pain, and ecstasy.

Many folks, at this point, begin searching for a way out. They wobble and mutter stuff like, ‘forget the cheese, just let me out of the trap.’ The marry-go-round looks safe so lots of people jump on, only to discover it moves in circles round never changing scenery. Instead of carousel music, it broadcasts dialogue, ‘did you take the trash out? and no, our anniversary was last month…’ If only folks thought twice about getting on the emotional roller coaster ride. Some think its ups and down are thrilling; it makes others scream incessantly or projectile vomit the funnel cake and foot long hotdog eaten during their midway sojourn.

On a former trip to the park, I managed to avoid the bumper cars and its many physical bruises, but didn’t have a fortunate experience on the bouncing bonnet attraction. The metal, half-moon shaped ride spins you faster and faster until you’re flattened against the back wall with no harness or support. Then the floor drops out. You’re paralyzed in place by the weight of inertia. Your life choices and wishes flashes by via images: a mortgage deed; computer and pager; the ticket to Bora Bora you never bought; a child playing with a toy, then a real car; your shaky signature on legal documents; a seven course meal that cost a week’s salary; throwing dirt on the coffin of a loved one…

Suddenly, you find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs, heart bursting from its ribcage jail, fingertips reaching, clawing. For an instant, you are Cabaret’s Liza Minelli, against the wall under the train trestle; Janet Leigh in the shower in Psycho; Fay Wray atop the Empire State Building; and yes, you are also Sally in When Harry Met Sally, in the restaurant opposite Harry. Screaming feels great, fantastic. You shout: I see your face when I’m dreaming; that’s why I wake up screaming. Then just like that, the floor of the bonnet ride is again beneath your feet. The ride swirls round one last time and ejects you up and over the wall of the park.

You shake your head, pick yourself up, and glance back. The theme park entrance is now boarded up. Garishly spray painted graffiti adorns crumbling walls. You read, in red letters: My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife, marrying you screwed up my life. You tilt your head to the right to read: I love your smile, your face, your eyes—damn, I’m good at telling lies!

Did I do that? Did I ruin relationship park by referring to it too many times as that ‘awful four letter word?’ Or was it the guy that said to me, ‘I long to feel your sweet embrace, just don’t take the paper bag off your face?’ I could not have screwed it up by myself; I had help. I sigh; there’s a month to figure it out. Meanwhile, I take consolation from the magic of prose and poetry. Or perhaps I should think about love in a different way, as a competitive sport with penalties and time outs or as a crafty corporate merger; as a watch that takes a licking but keeps on ticking

I derive a strange comfort and dare I say ‘optimism’ from a line of poetry by Auden. Is this the year my bony heart will again flutter, or will it continue to flounder in love’s gutter? I use the word strange because Auden detested the line he wrote that I admire. He thought it was ‘cheesy and self-congratulatory.’ I see it as a grand phrase humanity can embrace, myself included, romantically, altruistically, or platonically. Our world expands and contracts, demands and exacts. There’s just one thing to do, ink Auden’s words in contrails across skies, “We must love one another or die.”