The most romantic grammatical error in the English language is the comma splice. There is nothing quite so lexically coquettish as the prospect of bringing together two utterly independent clauses, from the most disparate of origins, and joining them face to face in audacious effrontery to all that grammarians hold sacred. It brings blush to one’s cheeks just to think of how close they are–without a period, without a conjunction, without even so much as a lousy semicolon to keep them apart! So formidable! So bad! An editor would be remise to overlook a scandal like that, and that’s why they have rules to prevent such things. All parallel clauses must always dance at least an arm’s length away from each other. These sorts of rules can be burdensome at times. But no obstacle is insurmountable, love has a way of working things out.
She is a masterpiece as excellent
As the cracks in the Mona Lisa.
A work of art as almost beautiful
As the mold on a squirmy armadillo.
Can I compare her to a jubilant hairy lobster?
Or is she equalled by the immaculate weeping watermelons?
She is more lovely than the shattered shards
Of exquisite Grecian pottery,
And more realistic than a crocodile
Who swims all day in tart and tasty lipstick.
The missing pieces
Of the mansion Parthenon,
The breathtaking breaks
In a Yellowstone precipice,
The brown part
Of a rotten bow tie.
She is more to me than all of these,
And now I have a kangaroo nose of my own.
I think that I must be in love,
But it could be indigestion—
Only Lee or a bad burrito
Could make me feel this way.
She smells much better than a bad burrito.
She doesn’t fit at all inside the rigid barbed wire,
But she is a misshaped gratuitous extraneous rupture
In a canvass that forever disrupts the regular flow of purple tea.
So what is the best type of story to tell a toddler with pointy teeth?
That which befalls a nose,
By Benny, brother James,
Would be called a kangaroo.
You’ll understand when you’re older—
The panda bear doesn’t really know
How to chew bamboo.
But for now, you should know
To never accept a loan from a shark,
Somehow lucid advice,
To never reject a respectable lethargic-caterpillar enchilada,
That’s a little bit better, but the best suggestion of all
Is to never ever never fall in love.
Eventually, brother James, Mom and Dad
Will actually explain the extra insects and the birds to you,
But take my word that love is like a loopy fruit loop.
When I hold his hand
I am a towering pizza mountain of insomnia
That runs over the resplendent ocean
In brilliant bays of fiery luminescence.
I have a thousand evanescent peanut butter flies
Shooting out of all my incandescent beaming eyes,
And my golden finger nails are as shiny as the outer space.
Do all dogs really know how to play the virtuosic ukulele?
I noticed the man without a friendly fellow go by in his rowboat,
And I don’t care any more about my crocodile.
I’m sorry, brother James—
I can’t explain it.
READ THE PREVIOUS POEM IN
“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”
Today he looked at me
Through his crooked glasses frame
And when he said, “hi, Lee”
I almost forgot my eggplant-potato salad.
I think he knows about my nose,
Let’s hope he passes over it.
“There are in this world stranger things,”
Says a stranger, “than to have a kangaroo nose,”
But if Benny knew I think he’d mind
That deep inside my rigid make up case
Contained below the cosmic cosmetics
And other contents of every kind and sort,
There is an extra crocodile with long ears.
His leg is broken and he cannot swim
To peek his head above the liquid lipstick.
But even if his leg were healed,
I think his ears would still look funny.
Everything else is in order—
Except that I forgot again to tip the door man…
With the golden token…
And the yellow bow tie.
“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”
More specifically, could love be radical without being irrational?
Ever since the mystical romanticism of nineteenth century western culture, it has become fashionable to regard love as an irrational human sentiment. People seem to like this notion because it gives love a special place in philosophy: love is not the sort of thing you can write a long philosophical treatise on (or can you?), but instead it is a subject for great poems and works of art. Of course, this understanding completely disregards any art that may be inherent in the genera of boring treatise writing, which is entirely surpassed, it is supposed, by the capacity of an ardent poet. Indeed, this superior position seems to be where such a notion of love is placed; it is not merely irrational but super-rational, transcending and exceeding the limits of the human intellect into some supposedly higher, metaphysical realm of unintelligible emotion.
Some readers might think this notion is less novel than I have made it out to be, and perhaps a brief look at gothic love poetry—by which the romantics were allegedly inspired—would reveal so much. But let me respond to all such objectors with the position that the culmination of that poetic school is actually the dolce stil nuovo—a highly rational understanding of love. Indeed, there is very little mystical about medieval mysticism. But enough arguing with my imaginary antagonists; let’s look at an early renaissance passage. This comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Eve has just eaten the forbidden fruit and Adam is now throwing a mild hissy-fit over the matter:
“Should God create another Eve, and I
Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart; no, no, I feel
The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,
Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”
(Milton, Paradise Lost IX.911-6)
The last two lines might seem irrational. Why would Adam ever pursue a state of woe? That doesn’t make any rational sense; hence, Adam’s love must be irrational. But such a reading completely overlooks Adam’s own rationale, which he provides quite clearly: ‘I feel the Link of Nature draw me’. Milton is referring to the classical metaphor for marriage as a chain (people have been complaining about ‘the old ball and chain’ since antiquity). So entering into a state of woe is something that Adam would do by compulsion, and thus, he violates no rational principles. But Adam’s first premise is the most puzzling part of his logical argument: ‘Should God create another Eve … loss of thee / Would never from my heart’. What does that mean? If God could make another version of the same thing that Adam holds dear, why on earth would Adam pursue the broken one rather than being satisfied with a replacement?
We could easily imagine this question posed in much a more personal way. Suppose after thirty-five years of marriage, when the children are fully grown and left the cave, Eve turns to Adam in a moment of personal dissatisfaction and asks him that enduring question which has baffled the mind of every lover since the dawn of mankind: ‘why did you choose me?’ Adam would hardly have found himself in a tighter spot if she had instead asked, ‘does this sheep skin make me look fat?’ But he has an easy way out, a simple, rational answer that has been available to no man since: ‘I frankly had no other options.’ However, much to our amazement and stupefaction, Adam utterly refuses this obvious answer and favours a romantic and seemingly mystical one. He goes out of his way to create a hypothetical situation in which there are other Eves and then still decides to stick with his particular wife. Why?
Grammatical parallelism is the quintessence of romance.
It was quite a remarkable accoutrement, the hat that Andrew wore. It was of that eccentric, French fashion that only a select few can seem to pull off; and if anyone were so aptly placed among those choice and fortunate few as to be rightly labeled the paragon of that class, it was none other than this most formidably sophisticated fellow—that is to say, Andrew—on the head of whom, when placed, that hat seemed to transform the otherwise average gentleman into a nobleman of noblemen, venerated of the venerable. Upon wearing it, he looked like Frank Sinatra, the Jolly Green Giant, or someone of that remarkably handsome sort—perhaps Peter Pan. And all around him the sun shone bright and the autumn winds danced with a new-found vivacity, sprinkled with the ambrosial aroma of florid fields.
For this reason, it is not in the least a bewilderment that Larena Lee should have fallen head-over-heals in love with him when first she laid her hazy hazel eyes on the youthful lad. Indeed, she should have done exactly that. But unfortunately, as is not strange to any of us who hold our heads just below the clouds, things do not always workout so romantically and perfectly in real life, but the true nature of reality is full of such deformities and decrepities as are not otherwise found in books or fairy tales. No, instead, Larena Lee fell quite heals-over-head, only slightly bruising her pretty little ankle on the fourth stone step.
“Are you okay?” Andrew, being of the errant and quixotic sort of nobility that he was, hesitated not a moment to aid the damsel in distress. Helping her to her feet (and not failing to notice her irresistibly petite and pallid ankle—fair, even bruised as it was) he offered her his name and a pleasantry, a reasonable courtesy to be expected in such a situation, “That was quite a spill—I’m Andrew by the way.”
“Larena Lee,” she offered him her hand (so that he might shake it, as people often do), “O dear, you’re rather right, it was quite a spill indeed; I scarcely noticed it.” Whereupon the immense lake of tea that she had inadvertently flung across the entire room became conspicuous to her. But enraptured, she soon disregarded the tea again, and it became just as inconspicuous as it was from the start—and would be for all the rest of eternity, inconspicuously filling the room with an inconspicuous aroma (as aromas generally are inconspicuous, evading the eyes in their pellucidly pungent manner) that could be anything but equated to the aforementioned florid ambrosia, finding a congeniality much more fitting in the highly uncongenial odorous force of a fungus-suffused felt, or carpet. She shifted her focus back to whom she was certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt (and doubts tend to have rather long shadows these days), would hereafter be the love of her life—assuming he kept his hat on. “I like your hat.” she smiled at him.
“O thank you; I put it on my head myself.” Andrew was clearly an exceptionally quick-witted fellow, remarkable in his charm, grace, and choice of wardrobe. The couple stood there in an awkward silence for a while, lost in each others eyes (which is a difficult state to accomplish, considering how small an eye is, how large a person, and how much larger still a sense of direction). Then finally Andrew spoke: “Larena Lee?”
“Yes, Androstenedione—I mean, Andrew—yes, Andrew?”
“I couldn’t help but notice you staring at me…”
“Yes, androgenic Andrew.”
“And well … I was wondering …” This was it. They both knew he was about to ask her out on a date (of course, he would have, himself, been too grammatically pedantic to use the phrase ‘ask her out’, but too eloquent to say ‘ask her outward’); they could tell what was about to happen by means of the prickly, augurial butterflies flapping wildly through their stomachs (once again presenting a feasibility issue much like the optical disorientation mentioned earlier). “Well … here it goes …” he swallowed hard, wiped away the perspiration, and closed his eyes tight (I suppose, trapping Larena inside—depending on your own, personal convictions about what’s going on in the story right now) “How would you like to have a romantic kettle of Sanskrit-Breakfast Tea with me?”
Larena Lee was eager to accept the invitation, but found herself restrained by but one thing: the grammatical construction. It took her a while to think about his use of an adverbial interrogative and the appropriate response. Of course it might seem too forward if she were to reply adjectivally, too compendious—and also grammatically fallacious—if she were to offer a mere affirmation, and too philosophically irritating if she reciprocated interrogatively. So she settled on an adverbial response, which she thought would create a nice parallel construction in the dialogue—romantic, without being overly candid: “Well.”
There was another awkward silence—though not quite as awkward as the last (for it is not strange that awkwardness grows week with wear). Andrew replied, less mindful of where things stood grammatically (though he is, indeed, like really grammatical and stuff): “Well? Well what?” Enamoured, his ardent arteries yet undulate with an amorous ardor.
“Well. Precisely well. I would well like to have a romantic kettle of English-Breakfast Tea with you.” Alas, as we often see in everyday discourse, a keen observance of grammar had completely compromised her consciousness of the content of conversation.
“No, not English-breakfast, Sanskrit-Breakfast. It’s just like English, only its Sanskrit.”
Larena Lee, somewhat embarrassed that she had not taken better note of the language, and thinking herself a foolish, uncultured girl, blushed apologetically; “I’m quite sorry,” she said, “I um … I thought … I thought that by ‘Sanskrit’, you meant ‘English’.”
“Oh. I see. No, I did not.”
“Well in that case, a warm cup of Sanskrit-Breakfast Tea sounds delightful.” In this she spoke most truly; Sanskrit is indeed a charmingly euphonic tongue.
“Very well; then let us be off.”
And they retired to more private quarters for their tea, leaving behind a gentleman in the corner who has been left unmentioned hitherto. His name was Don Ulysses Darius Epsilon (though he went by Themistocles, or Phillip, because he was a law-abiding man who was particularly fond of horses). He sat in silence, pondering what a great difficulty that singular encounter had made of itself.
In a small, dusty kitchen, with a creaky wooden floor, Andrew set up a brew, while Larena Lee admired his remarkable hat. It was made of a soft, but distinguished, grey fabric on top, which hung casually over whatever was beneath it, sewn with a sturdy seam to the oblong brim. All in all it was a perfectly charming piece of cloth—rugged, yet tender, tough, but sensitive. And she couldn’t take her eyes off it (that is, of course, because her eyes were in their sockets—though this matter may have been confused to some degree previously—and therefore, they were not touching the hat, which meant they could not either be removed from it).
With the kettle boiling away, Andrew turned to Larena Lee, who was sitting at the table, expectantly, and he walked over to sit with her. They sat, facing each other, at the table, in another awkward silence (which is, of course, where novel daters often tend to sit), and he thought of points of conversation. He went through a number of possible lines in his head—for he was, indeed, quite fond of geometry—and mentally, he tried each one on for size: “so I was calculating the hypotenuse last night and … ” No, that one was too simple; he wanted to impress her. “I was considering the projection of a seven-dimensional cloth into four-dimensional space for an integration problem …” No, that was too fascinating; he didn’t want her to think him unbearably engrossing. “I was reading Catullus …” No, that was too gross. Finally, she interrupted his thoughts:
“So, do you often drink in Sanskrit?” He looked at her, not quite finished calculating. Then he realised she had said something, and he played it back in his mind, whereupon he quickly fashioned a response so as not to seem rudely irresponsive:
“भवतु” He said, or at least tried to say—the only problem was that he didn’t know any Sanskrit, so he couldn’t read his response aloud. But on the bright side, he thought of something to say to her: “I wrote you a sonnet.”
“In my head.”
“Would you like to hear it?”
“Okay,” he thought quickly, “here it is:
Let me get the tea first.” He got up, walked over to the stove, picked up the tea kettle, put the kettle back down, walked over to a cabinet, opened the cabinet, found nothing inside, closed the cabinet, walked over to another cabinet, opened that cabinet, found nothing more or less than exactly two tea cups within, took out the tea cups, put them down on the counter, closed the cabinet, picked the tea cups back up, walked over to the table, set the tea cups down on the table, walked back over to the stove, picked up the teapot, walked back to the table, poured tea in Larena’s cup first (for he was a courteous gentleman), and then, trying to pour tea in his own, he missed, spilling it all over the table. “O dear!” Larena found this very romantic, but perhaps it was a bit improper of him to be calling her by such an intimate appellation so soon. “It seems I’ve spilled. Let me go get a towel.” What happened next needn’t be described.
He sat back down, and the two of them sipped their tea together. Larena spoke, “I feel ashamed to admit it, but in a spirit of utter transparency, I must tell you I’ve never had Sanskrit-Breakfast Tea before. What’s in it?”
The tea is made of whatever herbs Andrew might happen to find lying around on any given day. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you that; it’s an ancient secret.”
At this, there was nothing more to say. They sipped their teas.
Then Andrew started again: “So I was formulating an infinite geometric sequence that equivocates to a sinusoidal—” His voice broke off. What was he doing! One can’t bring up such a controversial topic on a first date; it’s abominably uncouth! He thought quickly, “—I mean, what I meant to say was…I’m delighted that I finally asked you outward.” He stuffed his foot in his mouth—much to Larena’s amazement, and slight disgust—in the great haste of recovering from one misspeaking, he had fallen into another much worse. What had become of his former eloquence? Something was depriving him of it.
Larena blushed, “So, do you mean…this is like…a date?”
Andrew thought for a moment, while Larena Lee looked at his luxurious hat. “Hm,” he says, “That’s quite an interesting metaphor.” They both thought about how the metaphor could be extended. “I suppose, it’s a bit drier than a grape, but certainly more juicy than a raisin.” They were both tickled by the literary implications. And the Homeric metaphor began to grow.
“It’s sweet.” Larena added, and they were both thrilled with amusement of double entendre.
“But its dangerous.” Andrew cautioned her abruptly. The smile absconded from her face. “You must be extremely cautious to avoid the pit!” Whereupon, they both started laughing wildly, though unsure of exactly what was so funny. It is at times like these that one must recall the adage of a great sage of old: ‘I’m so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word I’m saying’ —Oscar Wild.
The laughter settled down soon enough, and they both sipped their teas. Andrew started thinking of something else to say, but as fate would have it, Larena was the next to speak, which she did, only momentarily sneaking another glance at his hat: “Well I am glad to have been asked outward, but you will have to pardon me, I don’t mean to pry; however, I couldn’t help but notice a peculiar qualifier buried in your wording.”
“What qualifier was that?” Andrew began to grow anxious.
“Finally.” They were both silent for a moment, but moments as these had long since given up the arduous task of being awkward in nature. So they sat in a strangely unawkward silence; one, in fact, that was so peculiarly unawkward as to verge on being awkward in its unawkwardality.
“Now isn’t that an interesting adverb?” Andrew thought quickly, but no ideas seemed to come to him. “It has such a sense of—” As he thought, Larena admired his hat, “—of … a sense of finality.” His eloquence had left him a fool of itself, but it was no matter, for Larena Lee hardly noticed the lexical gap, finding herself utterly enraptured in an androcracy; that is, a dreamy universe ruled almost entirely by the charms and apparel of Andrew.
“Indeed, it does.” She sipped her tea, “you are quite right.”
It is at this point fitting that something be said as to the appearance of these two. Indeed, it has been highly indecorous of the author to leave out such a detail thus far, and so, he humbly and apologetically offers this consolation, first speaking in regards to Larena: she was unspeakably pretty. And as for Andrew, his charm has already been sufficiently spoken—remember, tall, dark, handsome, and green…dark green.
“Were you not intent on reciting a sonnet?” Larena spoke again.
“Ah, yes;” Andrew cleared his throat, “I most certainly was. Ornatus usurpandus est.”
“O, it’s in the romance language of Italian; how romantic.”
“Um actually,” this moment was nonetheless awkward in spite of the couple having already conquered so much awkwardness in the past. “Actually, that was the vulgar language of Latin. It means that I must, in a spirit of total cordiality and decorousness, regrettably and temporarily excuse myself, as I am really—though not uncomfortably so—quite due, in a professional and formal sense of the word—that is, the word, ‘due’—yes, quite due for an appointment with the necessary.” At this it was certain to both of them that Latin is indeed an extremely concise language. There was a silence; the reader is left to determine the awkwardness of it for himself.
“Oh, of course, by all means; go right ahead-I mean—I don’t mean go ahead, but I mean…well, let yourself go—no…” she couldn’t think of a euphemistic way to say it, “have a pleasant temporary absence.” They both felt a bit ashamed of their wording, but they knew deep down–all the more to their shameful bliss–that it would in truth be a very pleasant ‘temporary absence’, especially because it would allow them each time to recover from that traumatic experience, having very nearly brought both the English and Latin languages to utter waste.
Larena sat back in her chair and looked down at her thumbs, which she twiddled around one another. Andrew got up and left, and what followed needn’t be described.
Upon his return, tragedy ensued. Larena looked up and saw—miserable to behold—his head lay open, naked. He had, unbeknownst to her, removed his hat and set it on the table before leaving for the loo—though the author failed to describe this pivotal moment.
“What are you doing?” She pressed urgently. “Your hat! Your glorious hat! What has become of it?”
“Its okay, Larena.” He tried to comfort her, but words wouldn’t come. “I-um … I’ll say the sonnet now.” This helped mildly mitigate the situation, for Larena was always excessively pleased to hear romantic poetry, though she had never before had any addressed explicitly to her—unless you count an anthology that she ordered to be sent by mail. He began directly:
“I shall tell you candidly, as a gentleman of crossed intents
That I find it difficult to suppose there be a thing more lovely,
Or indeed, a wretched horror altogether more intense,
A good or ill that’s so more fully,
A passion’s fire of greater vivacity or effervescence,
Than as dreams expiring, or antithetical the hour,
That graceful, glorious, ineffable—though of such evanesc-
But no, the word ‘s too long.
I’m appalled by long words. Life is so insufferably abridged and abbreviated and short as it is, we oughtn’t waste our time pronouncing such long words to express that matter. Let me start over.”
“Indeed, further, the meter was not all that becoming of a sonnet, and I can’t say I was particularly fond of the rhyme scheme.”
“Right you are; it was an utter failure, and I’m glad it’s over. Allow me to begin again.
If eternity were present in an instant
And perpetuities were quintessential moments,
If fleeting dreams sufficed as permanent,
Etherial realities inconstant,
Then actuality and certitude
Were but a dream and love were but a fact,
Eternity were Love’s beatitude
To adorn with what its beauties never lacked.
So let us dream, my love, that dreams were true
Your essence, substanceless, were real as Eve,
A sunset never setting, forever new,
And the charming gloaming at dusk would not bereave.
If but that love were painless, ever-present,
But love were not itself ‘less evanescent.”
“Hm.” Larena pondered. “It’s pretty good. But—”
“—I know, I know, I said the word again.” He almost put his foot back in his mouth, but Larena stopped him, gently.
“No, it wasn’t that…”
“—What was it? What is it—the rhyme scheme again?”
She thought. “No.” She looked him directly in the eyes, and stood there, much the way she had when she first lay eyes on him. “No—the problem was—that I didn’t understand it.” They were both quiet, in a silence much resembling the one that DUDE had observed earlier.
“Oh.” Andrew was lost for words.
“Say an easier one.”
A brief hesitation (perhaps in the manner of that aforementioned word), and he began: “Okay.
What is this thing, for which—or one, for whom—
I haven’t left a word—or thought’s medallion—
To ornament the beauty—I have not room—
No remnant wit—in Sanskrit or Italian—
This is she—she of the fairest ankle—
With whom e’en cruel Achilles cannot compete—
I must confess—I haven’t a rhyme for ankle—
To end the line—I made the word repeat—
Larena, this is terrible—I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t stop; keep going—I like it.”
“I don’t know. It’s simple.” She tried to think of a better way to describe it. The main liking she took to it so far was, of course, the flattery it offered concerning her ankle—about which she had been mildly self-conscious since the fall, but now she was even verging on considering allowing the cuff of her jeans to rise a little once more, which she had pulled down just before leaving the other place (the name of which place, the author failed to mention, on account of a want for creativity or fear of exposure). “It’s honest. It’s clear. It’s a stilnovismo. It has the modern voice of candidness. It’s transparent.” She now realised she was running on at the mouth, wasting time. “Say more about my ankle.”
“Well.” Andrew was somewhat reluctant, but he conceded, with a concessive clause. “Although I don’t find it so beautiful as you just described—I mean the poem—your ankle is utterly beautiful—I’ll finish it for your sake:
O fairest of the fair—ankle of ankles—
Noble, small, white—what else can I say?
I still don’t have a word to rhyme with ankles—
So I guess I’ll end the line again that way—
My knees grow week in the presence of that ankle—
Because, for medical reasons, they’re weaker than my ankle.
Oh dear. That last line had too many syllables.”
“I know, dear. It’s better that way. You look nice without your hat.”
The best way to flirt with a philologist is to use the Romance languages.