Well, Feb. 14 has rolled around, and it's time again for the men and women of America to sign their "Declarations of Dependence." And if you're like me, you're content to let tradition and convention do most of the talking for you.
Most of us send flowers (roses); we buy heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and in the evening we put on a little Andrew Lloyd Webber and hand out Hallmark cards that look like Grandma's doilies.Like chocolate itself, Valentine's Day in America has a sweet, familiar taste to it, a taste we find both pleasant and non-threatening.
Then someone like David Lee comes along and wakes us up by slipping a pork rind into a cherry chocolate.
I'm talking about the odd and very dangerous love poem Dave wrote for his wife, Jan. The poem's called "For Jan With Love."
But before getting poetic, let me give you some background.
David Lee is a rural boy from Post, Texas, who now lives in St. George. He's a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who - somewhere along the line - picked up a wonderful knack for handling pigs. But for years raising hogs was just his avocation; his vocation was writing poetry. Dave turned out competent, high-minded poems that nobody would publish - not even Dave himself.
In time, the rejection slips began to wear Dave down. And one day while helping a neighbor load some pigs, he told the friend he was leaving the poetry business. He explained he wasn't cut out for it, that the Muses weren't on his wavelength. For all he knew they weren't even broadcasting anymore.
Dave's friend listened to all this, of course, and when Dave finished his lament the friend said, "You're a poet all right, Dave. The problem is you're writing things you don't know enough about. What you know is pigs. Put some pigs in those poems."
Well, Dave brooded on this for a while, then decided he'd take his friend's advice. He went into the house, got out a pad and pencil, and began to compose a love poem for his wife that also featured pigs.
As you can guess, Dave and Jan's marriage might have taken a nasty turn at that point. One false step and Dave could be in alimony up to his ears until 2001.
Still, he forged ahead. He wrote about how his friend John came by one day and said he had a sow in labor that might die. The piglets were twisted inside of her and they needed to be pulled out by hand.
John's hands were too big for the job, so were Dave's. But Jan's hands weren't.
Dave began writing how Jan spent the night rubbing Vaseline on her hands and trying to pull the little pigs out before the sow died.
It's not that she loved pigs, she just loved Dave. And Dave knew.
In the end, the sow does die, but that becomes an afterthought. The main theme of the poem is how much love Dave's wife feels for him.
Well, befitting a Valentine's Day tale, I'm happy to say the story has a happy ending. Not only did Jan like the poem, a publisher in the Pacific Northwest liked it, too, and published a book of Dave's pig poems. When Dave gave a reading to celebrate publication, 700 people turned out to hear him read about pigs. The publisher did a second pig book.
Dave and Jan still live in St. George. They no longer have pigs, but they still have that mutual affection for each other.
And Dave is writing as well as ever.
In fact, his most recent collection of poems won the Utah Arts Council Publication Prize last year. It's a book of poems about that old friend who first got Dave putting pigs into his poetry.