"Everything about Valentine's Day with its sentimental obligations makes me want to run the other way."

Everything about Valentine's Day with its sentimental obligations makes me want to run the other way. Except the conversation hearts. I am a big fan of those little boxes of pale chalky candies stamped either with expired slang or with sweet talk of under ten letters.

The words do not pretend to be poems, as much else does on Valentine's Day. If you are handed a heart, it's quick to read and ok to dismiss—you can even hand it back. They are inconsequential, impersonal, random, a joke, a hundred for thirty-nine cents. You don't have to stand there under the tender eye of the giver and labor through the a-b-a-b of a real Valentine card, trying to decide if you're obliged to read it aloud or if you can just move your lips.

Conversation hearts are an honest product; they actually provoke conversation, and not just the annual debate as to whether there is really a different taste to the pink ones. The messages are so short that it's hard to help reading them back and forth, and the conversation that collects in the interstices is guaranteed to be utterly idle.

Too little is made of the agreeability of patently, triumphantly, idle conversation. Much presses us toward substance—wars, prizes going to the wrong people. We feel obliged to refer to these topical evils, but it is only aggravating, usually; no real depth and no real lightness. This never happens with conversation hearts. Conversation is trapped in the shallow dents between You Kid and Bug Off, Be Mine and Forget It. And your heart? It is left to tendril its delicate tendrils, an air plant that thrives, thrives, on the little accidental chemistries of play.

Originally Published: February 1st, 2007

Born in California in 1945 and acknowledged as one of the most original voices in the contemporary landscape, Kay Ryan is the author of several books of poetry, including Flamingo Watching (2006), The Niagara River (2005), and Say Uncle (2000). Her book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (2010)...

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  1. February 12, 2013

    The Perfect Gift

    Love is like a Noble gas that, without warning fills the room
    Or the flower that never wilts, always in perfect bloom
    The laws of physics, love often refutes
    No matter the objects, it seems never to dilute
    No eyes, yet it always seems to see
    No arms, yet it always lies alee
    Surely no ears, yet it always seems to hear
    Not just the sounds, but also a lover’s inner fears.
    And when it comes to the tactile sense
    So very lasting, so very intense
    With nary a twitch, nor slightest sniff
    All manner of aromas, it will easily sift
    The future it may not always be quick to foretell
    But a honed sixth sense within surely dwells
    Like a nova it may burst into white hot flame
    From gifts for passion to unleash and worries to tame
    The roses, candles, chocolates, jewelry and cards
    Soften up the heart for the moment of the bard
    For roses wilt, candles burn, flicker and no longer light the room
    Cards find the trash and chocolate no matter how fine is finally consumed
    Not the roses are red and violets are blue
    No, another melody of a different, warming hue,
    No, the muse who in the soft quiet of the night
    When of all the senses only love has any sight
    And can hear the heart in rhythmic beat
    And can feel the warm glow beneath the sheets
    Leaves then the poem that will be the perfect gift
    Up the highs, sooth the lows and mend a not—too—often rift
    A poem of many stanzas tailored to one’s lover unique
    And why with all the blessings no need to another ever seek
    But a poem with a central rhythmic core
    “You cause my heart to beat faster, my soul to soar
    No matter the time, nor date of year
    Each day with you has a Valentine to clutch so dear.”
    Michael P. Ridley
    a/k/a the Alaskan Poet,
    © February 8, 2011

  2. February 13, 2013
     Phil Nast

    I guess I'm even less sentimental than Kay Ryan. I rarely read what I eat.

  3. February 15, 2013

    Such a delight: a prose piece by Kay Ryan that is just as economical and pithy as her poems (no surprise).