I’m a rodent, not a meteorologist. Punxsutawney Phil
Understanding, love’s other name Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022)
Dear February 2022,
Will this Aquarian/Pisces month be auspicious or uncertain? Your name derives from old French fume, to smoke or steam or Latin ‘februa’ to purify (via salt, grain, or strips of goat skin). February begins with lesser (Greek) Eleusinian Mysteries and Imbolc, and includes purging, slaughtering of lambs, and a race to see if the Cailleagh can collect and burn enough firewood to prolong winter by six weeks (or if PA Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow). Lesser Eleusinian rites were dedicated to kidnapped/ravished Persephone (solar energy) and focused (according to Frazer) on initiation of unpurified souls and evolvement from their physical/material nature. February ends with a National Polar Bear festival, Cupcake Day (in Canada), and Carnival blowout.
The shortest of months seems to have contradictions. It’s really a month of longing, imaginative inclinations, and sparseness—though we typically have a Fat Tuesday and Cherry Pie day in this month. A snow/hungry full moon on the 16th lingers for three days. Though February doesn’t leap this year, it does welcome tigers, paper or otherwise on 2/1. Apologies to sorcerers who cast powerful spells on leap days. If you’ve been unlucky in love, February 14th is also National Organ Donor Day.
No worries if you didn’t party hardy enough at solstice. Just catch mid-February Lupercalia (from Latin Lupus=wolf, the one that suckled Romulus & Remus). It was a nine day orgy way back when. Faunus, a wild goatish god, was lustful master of ceremonies. Priests would beat barren women with a goatskin thong called a februa—to make them fertile! Lupercalia was banned and replaced by Valentine’s Day around 496 ACE. Poor Valentine; Claudius II had him beaten with clubs and beheaded/axed (because he secretly married young lovers). Lupercalia had purification rites also; vomitoriums were set up throughout Rome to accommodate revelers.
In addition to contradictions, February is full of odd conjunctions, hook ups, and surprising celebrations. Not so long ago, to survive a harsh winter was quite the accomplishment. With no TV or smart phone, folks gazed at the sky. This year they would see Mars is in Capricorn, Sun in Aquarius conjuncting with Saturn, Mars in Capricorn trining with Uranus, Mercury (retrograde) in Capricorn conjuncting with Pluto…Saturn rules. Then there’s Carnivale, the world’s oldest block party, celebrated since the Pharaohs ruled Egypt (hail Nerthus, Ishtar, Dionysus & lords of misrule). This is in addition to the circuses (flea & 3 ring), music concerts, Wild West, Medicine, & Grind Shows, Amusement Park openings, & Fairs held.
After watching Nightmare Alley and rereading William Gresham’s other books, I was reminded an earlier version of the word was more akin to Festivus than carnival (to leave off meat) and that the carny part of carnival had its own lingo and lore. For the devout, carnival ends on Fat Tuesday. In the middle ages, it was an extension of Christmas festivities until the Spanish put the kibosh on extended orgies, donning farcical costumes/masques, and feasting. The Carnival of Venice was temporarily shut down by Napoleon in 1797 and not fully revived until the 1970s. Africans contributed vastly to American celebrations. We adopted the brilliant colors and music of that continent—and scary masks—resplendent with feathers and other souvenirs. Today, Carnival is celebrated in over 50 countries, reminding us life isn’t a cabaret; it’s a carnival game—never as easy as it looks.
If I did a playlist for February, it wouldn’t contain love songs. It would include Joni Mitchell’s Song About the Midway about a gambling guitar playing man and sideshows in other towns; at the end she is midway down the midway (in the land of freaks)… Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite captures the sans souci attitude of carnival (‘just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch on…’). In the Stylistics song Sideshow they invite you to buy a ticket to the saddest act of all losing your love. Van Morrison’s Caravan captures the gypsy/Romani vibe of carnivals. Natalie Merchant’s Carnival compares NY City (not Coney Island) to being at a carnival. The best representative song might be the 2007 noir’esque Carny (Nick Cave & Bad Seeds).
February’s a month resplendent with fasnacht donuts; purple, green, gold flecked king cakes; chocolate covered and baked into pie cherries; and hatchets, like the one George used to chop the cherry tree. It was end times for Don McLean, prompting him to write American Pie (without cherries), to warn music was heading in the wrong direction. Don left clues too: Janice Joplin was the girl who sang the blues; Dylan was the jester; and apparently, Elvis & Connie Francis were king and queen? The Monotones wrote the Book of Love and the Stones grew fat moss… Five February’s later, the Beatles played both Carnegie Hall and on Ed Sullivan’s Show. The Mersey Beat, surf & psychedelic rock, protest, Motown, and different to dance to music had arrived.
Why is February the most misspelled month? Why was Greek nymph Amethyst turned into white stone until Bacchus poured wine on her, rendering the stoned nymph a hazy shade of purple? Why were so many prolific serial killers born in February? There’s Ridgway (Green River Killer), Rifkin, Malvo (beltway sniper), Brudos (shoe fetish), Weidmann, and Adams (Dr Death)… Four presidents were also born in February and February 2, 1893 marks the first filming of a close up shot, not of a romantic kiss, but of a wet sneeze.
While others post love notes this month, I think of notes I never wrote. I become wistful about past lovers whose fate has escaped me in a semi-creepy way, not unlike Catherine Deveuve in The Hunger lamenting over her vampire protégé’s—reduced to shriveled skin spectres. What would I say to them now? I still have a muscle memory of the night we…in…That thing you did with the paint brush—no one ever… I meant to tell you I liked you saying my body resembled pink marble when I emerged from the bath that night ….Was I really cold, firm, metamorphic back then? To the young lad that said time would be as unkind and ruthless to me as I had been with his love I should write love wasn’t the issue, trust & understanding was. Time’s been as kind to me as I’ve been to it. I also think of poems I wrote, like Pillows Between Us:
Such soft, feathery things
Isolating dreams, politely dividing this bed
While comfortless blankets
Upon designing sheets
Hold the warmth we keep—from another
Traitor’s our toes that frequently touch
And occasionally exchange
Pleasantries, yet too cowardly are
To cross enemy lines—officially
Will be the first—to march us on
To other sheets, other beds
Other pillows of unrest.
Shall we listen to our feet
Which bear our weight and faintly hear
Our pillowed beat? Or—
Smother all with a cushioning?
Pillow me softly when you go;
Let it be morning before I know
Love has fled, and there be—just…
Pillows between me in this bed
If love could grow a winter garden, it would be fit for contrarians and those whose heart this month feels more like a Jackson Pollack painting than red fruit bursting with sweet juice. It would contain regimented rows of gangster Bugsy Moran quips caught on thorny Chicago roses: Yoh, be with me—that’s my final offa; else you’ll be lying with Jimmy Hoffa. Or Lust is fleeting, but true love lingers; be mine now—if you want to keep your toes and fingers…
Emily Dickinson, the SWANK (single woman & no kids) soloist of sensual solitude, wrote a perfect love poem Ample Make This Bed, which was poignantly presented at the end of the movie Sophie’s Choice. Sophie might have liked this next poem as well, entitled Valentine, by C. Duffy. After all, ‘poetry predates psychotherapy, Prozac, & ice cream straight from the carton & won’t get you arrested‘ (D. Goodwin). This is for those that feel, at setting sun, when love’s gone and done, tis better to have loved and lost, than to have loved and won.
I give you an onion, a moon wrapped in crinkly beige paper
Which promises light—and a careless undressing of love;
It blinds you with tears, like a lover untrue
Makes your reflection a wobbling pastiche of the blues…
I give you an onion. Its fierce kiss stays on your lips
Possessive and brash—as we were—as we are.
I give you an onion, lethal and harsh.
Its scent clings to your heart & your life
And though it is round, it cuts life a knife.
Second part of Chapter 6, Interpretation of Death (Willy’s stumbling through the woods, pursued by a man intent on stopping her) drops in early February, as does next chapter of An Act of Ambition (Nora makes a discovery regarding Chaz’ alleged suicide). For more features on the fickle month of February, consider other articles on this site: Sweet, Tart, and Sour Hearts; All the Words I’ve Loved & Lost; Imbolc; and Burning Down the Spouse. Cheers