Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Road from Damascus

I have been planning to report on the various projects I have going since January but, as Willie Nelson sang in the song he wrote, “Ain’t it funny how time slips away?”

I started these more or less major projects last August and have done little to something on each one.

The first and the only completed item on the list is the preparing of my father’s house for rental. That was accomplished yesterday afternoon about 5 PM.  The project involved going through my dad’s “goods,” and either selling (a few), giving (most) away or keeping (a few), and repairing and refurbishing the house itself. I’d like to thank mostly some family members for their most excellent (Garth!) help: daughters Amy and Alyssa, their bf’s Chris Brown and Chris McGee, nephews Jonathan and Josh Pankey, Becky V., and friends Don and Onie Libeau. Thanks to my dad Clyde for giving me carte blanche to mete out his material goods. That made my job a lot easier. And thanks to my brother Ron for moral and other support from Georgia. I love you all! Also, thanks to “Miss Emily” Wittig for the contact that got us renters who are arriving today all the way from Florida.

Thanks a bunch, guys! We did it! (If I omitted anyone please forgive me and let me know in a comment so I can add you to the list!)

The second project is adding a foot of insulation to the existing six inches in the attic. This is about 60% completed and soon will be impossible to do with air temps in the 2000 degree range in the attic in the summer around here. Must…finish…itchy…project…

The third, converting our six-foot security fence to a 42 inch picket fence. So far I have completed two eight-foot sections out of 73. Hmmm…If only the weather would turn warmer. Oh, wait, it has…

The fourth, taking my Biscuit City blog more seriously. Let me know what you think of the blog and see if I am taking it more seriously.

Fifth, integrating my father’s extensive tool collection into my less-than-extensive tool holdings. Not much done on this, but it will be a summer project in the cool basement!

And sixth, my wanting to be a better human being. Your call on progress on that.

The title of this post is of course a play on words from the passage in Acts in which Saul undergoes a dramatic (to say the least) conversion experience on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians. I think anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows the details: if you don’t, I invite you to read one of the most compelling change-of-heart, mind and soul accounts out there. It’s in Acts 9, 22 and 26, with the main narrative in 9 and repurposed accounts in 22 and 26.

The connection to my father’s house is that it is located on Damascus Drive. We as family and friends have had a road to Damascus experience when my mom and dad moved there from Loudoun County after she began showing signs of Alzheimer’s in 2002. They moved in 2004 and she passed away in 2007. My dad moved into a senior living center in 2008 and into assisted living this past October. I started readying the house for rental to a new tenant in August 2010. That experience has been our road from Damascus.

I have been over to the house almost every day since August. I was thinking about Paul’s experience as recorded in Acts after he went, blinded, to Damascus. He began to preach the Gospel while there (imagine the reaction of his handlers in Jerusalem: “Paul is doing WHAT?”) and soon put his life in danger to such an extent that he had to be lowered to the ground in a large basket from the top of the city wall at night to escape. He went back to Jerusalem where he incited the local population to such an extent that he was fortunate (or saved by God) to escape with his life again. Paul could stir things up!

Like Paul, we have had our journey to Damascus. And now we have journeyed from Damascus. And like Paul, we have learned and been sustained by friends and believers, saved by the grace of God, and now set on a new road to witness, serve and to keep on keeping on. Thanks be to God for his amazing grace and loving sustenance for all of us!

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Poem of the Week: Daylight Saving Time by Justin Gluchowski

Today’s poem of the week is a “found poem.” Justin Gluchowski, a Facebook and family friend, and member of the Manassas Chorale, had posted a comment about Daylight Saving Time on his FB page. Reading his words, it seemed to me that there was poetry in what he had to say. I lineated the prose and sent the piece to him for his approval and for permission to put it here. Justin insists that it’s not poetry, just thoughts. I think it is quite poetic. Note the sense of rhythm throughout and profound ideas paired with the pedestrian task of setting the clocks ahead. And so, here is
Daylight Saving Time
Today we have one hour less
To say what should be said
To do what needs to be done
One hour less
To make someone smile
To turn tears of sadness to gladness.
Give back
Today of all days
That which man
Has taken from us:
Justin Gluchowski

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Writing, Music and Revision

During the last twenty years I taught English, the teaching of writing came under the fortuitous influence of the National Writing Project. This program changed the way writing is taught in our schools. Moving from an imitative errors marking approach to one involving a collaborative process among peer writers, the local arm of the project, the Northern Virginia Writing Project, has influenced thousands of teachers over the years and hundreds of thousands of their students. The results are evident to anyone who works with writing and with students.
I know that at Robinson High School in Fairfax that we as an English department moved from a primary trait scoring rubric (so many points for content, so many for mechanics, so many for organization) that produced “safe” writing unlike that which real writers wrote, to a holistic approach where the readers of the paper (not just me) considered the total effect of the paper, taking into account such components as voice, tone, mood, purpose, meaning, rhetorical devices and effect on the reader. This total paradigm shift also emphasized revision, revision, revision and it is that process and its connection to the rehearsal of choral music that I wish to speak.
We were tiptoeing our way through our first rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem Tuesday night at the Manassas Chorale. The first rehearsal after a performance is always an, uh, memorable event because we go from singing music that we practically have memorized for a concert and have worked on for months to reading with music we either have never seen before or haven’t seen for a while. It’s a humbling experience.
As we repeated passages and corrected mistakes in pitch, tone, diction and rhythm, it occurred to me how much this was like a writer’s revision of his or her work. We as writers go over and over what we have written, listening for a false note in the sound of the words and sentences, paying attention to those details and parts that convey a total effect to the readers, just as a director pays attention to those things that make up the sound of a choral group. 
The main difference that I can see is that once a writing has approached the state of being about as good as it is going to get, it stays that way. I can tell you with certainty that problems in music that are dealt with one week don’t necessarily stay fixed the next week. That is why repetition makes up such a  large part of rehearsal and why the time spent in rehearsing—about five hours for every minute of music—does not seem efficient. But that’s what it takes to produce art and beauty. As Antoine de St-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “It is the time you spend on your rose that makes it smell so sweet.” 
And so,  here’s to all those who spend their time on their roses. May they all smell sweet.

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Local Writer of the Week, an Extra Gravy Feature of Biscuit City: Leigh Giza

Good morning and welcome to Extra Gravy, a Harrison Bergeron Production coming to you from the glass-enclosed studios in Biscuit City, a wonderful magical land where all your dreams come true, everyone is intelligent and beautiful and has a ton of money! And it’s 72 degrees and sunny year ‘round. Our guest today is Leigh Giza, poet, Write by the Rails member, my Facebook friend, Gainesville resident, and author of Found and Lost, just published and available at
 Dan: Welcome, Leigh, to Extra Gravy, probably the world’s only virtual radio show without an audio. It’s nice to be able to talk with you!
Leigh: Thank you, Dan. I’m honored to be a guest on your fantabulous program. Please pass me the gravy.
Dan: Here! Have the whole bowl! Enjoy!
  I first became aware of you as a writer when I read your poems on the Facebook page, Write by the Rails, which is an open group for local writers.
 Your  poems are haiku which are short (of course) but incisive and thought-provoking. You post one almost every day. Would you tell us how you got started using this form and why you like it?
Leigh: It’s funny you should ask, because I was asked this question before and I couldn’t remember how I caught the haiku fever. My sister-in-law, who also likes to write, tells me she helped me get started with it a few years ago, and since she has a much better memory than I do, it’s probably true. Haiku appeals to me because it’s short and the lines don’t have to rhyme, so I can write one fairly quickly and then spend time revising it later. I take liberties with it in that I don’t necessarily try to evoke a moment or mood in the natural world like the early Japanese haiku writers did. But I do follow the form requirements, which state that a haiku must have three lines, with the first and third line having five syllables and the second line having seven syllables. I like writing something in which I know when I’ve gotten it “right,” at least in terms of form.
Dan: How did you develop an affinity for poetry and the ability to write poetry so well, which is a difficult challenge? I know you also like Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my all-time favorites.
Leigh: Well, I’m not sure I write poetry particularly well, but I enjoy it immensely. It probably has a lot to do with the expectation that poems should be brief (compared to short stories and novels), and that works well with my very short attention span. My grandmother liked to write poems, and so did her sister, so maybe some of it’s in the genes.
As for Edna St. Vincent Millay, I am just finishing reading a collection of her sonnets and I can’t say enough about them. They are awe-inspiring. And inspiring. Maybe I’ll tackle sonnets when I get tired of writing haiku.
Dan: I think Edna St. Vincent Millay writes lovely poetry. She has a certain ineffable quality to her work that allows her to be elegant and realistic at the same time. And she has the coolest name in poetry.
Could you share a poem with us right now? The length doesn’t matter—we have time and space.
Leigh: I’ll share a flash poem with you. Here goes:
 Red and black and blue
 Are the colors of the tattoo
 He drew upon her cheek
 When she found the nerve to speak
 In hindsight she could have walked
 But she peeled off the tape and talked
 Now she’s branded with a tattoo
 In these bloody awful hues
Dan: What a powerful poem! And it’s a “flash” poem as well. I’d like to feature one of your poems on the Biscuit City Poem of the Week next week. I think our listeners (or is it readers?) would enjoy that!
Leigh: Thanks for asking! I’d be happy to have that happen!
Dan: I’m getting a little ahead of myself. How did you learn to write, and who encouraged you?
Leigh: I’m still learning! I hope I am always learning how to write better. I think it’s a lifelong process. I really don’t have any special training — I took standard high school and college English courses. I have loved writing ever since I got my first diary when I was about 7 years old. I had a great friend in junior high school who wrote poems and I think she inspired me to try it by sharing her work with me. I also listened to a lot of music growing up, and when I bought albums (I listened to records growing up – I’m old!) I always loved reading the lyrics on the sleeves, and I’m sure that inspired me to write poetry too. When I lived in Richmond recently, I took a poetry class that evolved into a poetry writing group, and that motivated me to keep writing and to be open to sharing my writing with others, both inside and outside the group. I am also a member of the Bull Run Adult Writers Group, which is a critique group for writers, so that I can get feedback on my writing and hopefully make it better.
Dan: And you have a book just out. How exciting!  You posted a poem (with picture) about it which went,
At last I can hold
My book in my sweaty hands
It’s called Found and Lost
Please tell us about your book and how you came to write it!
Leigh: A couple of years ago I was looking at my writings and realized I had written a lot of haiku and that maybe I ought to do something with them, i.e. self-publish a book. I grouped together what I hope are some of the better ones into a narrative about a couple who meet, get together, and break up (original, huh?), and then I asked a friend of mine who’s a photographer, Sarah Kane, if she wanted to take some photos to illustrate the story. Thankfully she said yes. My book would not be what it is without her beautiful photography.
Dan: Are you planning a poetry reading in the future? I think that would be cool! I love to go to poetry readings!
Leigh: I am trying to work up the nerve to do a reading in front of people. I think I’d enjoy it, but I’m nervous about doing it.
Dan: I hope you’ll do a reading soon. It’s terrifying but people are very affirming once you take the risk. Although I read something to a group one time that I had found always made people laugh. A lot. For some reason no one laughed even once during this reading. So I slunk away from the podium when I was finished and got in my car and left. I didn’t even stay for the shrimp appetizers and I love shrimp.
So, how does your husband regard your writing? Does he give you special treatment because you are a writer?
Leigh: My husband, John, is very supportive of my writing, so long as I don’t write anything derogatory about him.
Dan: What can you tell us about your day job?
Leigh: I work part-time at a library. I’ve worked in libraries for many years now. It’s a hard habit to break. Kinda like writing.
Dan: I see you graduated from the University of Maryland. Would you tell us about your time at UMd? (Go, Terrapins!)
Leigh: It’s a little hard to recall a lot about it now, since I graduated thirty years ago! I was pretty nerdy back then (some would say I still am), so I didn’t do a lot of partying or socializing. I was a substitute d.j. at the college radio station, WMUC. That was fun!
 Dan: About the only thing I remember about college is reading and writing papers. I had a radio show on WESU-FM, with 15 watts of blazing power.
 I want to thank you for being with us on Extra Gravy from the Biscuit City studios today. I wish you well with your writing. You’ve been a delightful guest.
We’d love to have you back sometime and we’ll look for your poems and your book.
Leigh: Thanks, Dan! The book, Found and Lost, can be bought from and
Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.
Leigh: Didn’t Barbara Walters used to ask people that question at the end of her TV interviews with celebrities? I wouldn’t be a tree because then I’d have to cut myself down to make paper for my writing tablets, and that would hurt.
Dan: That’s a very post-ironic answer. And, yes, Barbara Walters ended her interviews with it. It’s goofy and I like it!
We’ve been talking with Leigh Giza, poet, wife, library worker and local resident.
This has been the Local Writer of the Week feature, brought to you on the Extra Gravy show on the Biscuit City Network. The Local Writer of the Week is a Harrison Bergeron Production and is sponsored by Haiku Brand Soy Sauce. For soy sauce that’s poetry in your mouth, pick up some Haiku Brand Soy Sauce. Soon you’ll be speaking in five or seven syllables, depending. Put Haiku Brand Soy Sauce on all your food and enjoy that honest to goodness taste of the east in haiku and sauce form. Remember, when life is dull and on the non-poetic side, you need Haiku Brand Soy Sauce. Available at fine grocery stores and book sellers everywhere! That’s Haiku Brand Soy Sauce. Get some! You’ll be so glad you did!
This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu from the glass-enclosed nerve center of the Biscuit City Network until next time when we’ll talk to another local writer.


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The Biscuit City Chronicles: I Can Fly

The first movie I ever saw was Peter Pan, in the first grade . I went as part of a school trip, since my parents never went to movies themselves and certainly never took us . I think this occasion might have been near the end of first grade . I remember several things about the experience : the theater was the biggest place I had ever been in (a bit frightening when the lights went down) , one of the parents bought everyone M & M’s, the first I had ever had, and I was terrified by the ticking crocodile. From this one movie I gained an enthusiasm for movies, a love of M&M’s and a healthy respect for crocodiles–and, oh, yes, an insane desire to fly.
I don’t remember this, but my mother tells me that as a toddler 1 liked to climb to the highest point 1 could find and then jump off. She thought I had a kind of infant death wish, but I think I was trying to fly. One afternoon she looked out to see me standing atop a four-foot fence post. She snatched me off before 1 could jump, but I think  the experience unnerved her.
Peter Pan apparently added a couple of new twists to my aerial career. Again, 1 don’t remember, but I’m told that I would take some salt from the shaker (pixie dust, naturally), throw it in the air above my head, shout |”Christmas!” (the magic word in the story, as you may recall), and jump into the air.
Unfortunately, this ritual didn’t cause me to fly any better than I had before. I think my mother has grateful we didn’t have many visitors to our home. A three-foot child sprinkled with salt leaping into the air shouting “Christmas!” in July is an odd sight.
My next source for ideas on how to fly came from television. I was astounded at the picture of George Reeves barreling across a metropolitan landscape, cape flowing in the slipstream in the small screen version of Superman. It was indescribably cool. 1 studied the screen up close, searching for a clue as to his mysterious abilities, missing the very obvious wires that held him horizontal against a rear-screen projection. I concluded that Superman’s cape enabled him to fly, and all I had to do was to procure one and 1 would soar off into the stratosphere (but 1 would be home in time for dinner). I tried towels tied around my neck, leaping off our front porch and crashing into the bushes. I gained long scratches on my arms instead of altitude, and my mother prohibited me from using any more of her towels after I tore a couple of them.
Then, on a bag of carrots, I saw an ad for an Eagle Flying Cape. For the princely sum of 25 cents, I could send away for this guaranteed flight accessory. The answer to my dreams, and only a quarter! 1 showed the offer to my mom. She laughed and said something she was to say many times in the years after that: “Don’t believe everything you read.” Then she threw the bag away. I knew better than to ask for a quarter.
So, 1 gave up on flying on my own and turned to other means, namely, airplanes. My favorite show became Sky King, a sort of cowboy transition show about a rancher who flew a spiffy twin-engine Cessna and took care of all sorts of incredibly difficult situations through reason, non-violence and a big airplane.
He also lived with his niece Penny who of course in those long- ago days did the cooking and cleaning, but also could pilot the Song Bird when Uncle Sky was disabled. I think it was at this point that I began to think that girls might be OK after all. My main focus, though, was an airplane.
How could I get one? I couldn’t buy one, since they cost upwards of a thousand dollars and my allowance was 25 cents a week.
I would have to build one.
And so I did, with my brother’s help, using scraps of wood I found in the garage. The finished product was about four feet long with a six-foot wingspan and tires scavenged from an old lawn mower. To my mind, it looked like The Spirit of St. Louis, sleek and silver and shiny. In reality it looked like a bunch of scraps nailed together in a cruciform shape. Of course, it didn’t have an engine which was probably just as well. I figured I couldn’t get the engine off the lawn mower without my dad noticing.
So, I needed a way to get my craft airborne. I didn’t care that 1 knew nothing about airfoils. Or aircraft design. I remembered the Wright brothers and how they had searched for exactly the right place to fly their aircraft. Soon l had settled on the ideal launching situation: the sloping roof of our garage. I would haul the airplane to the top of the roof, climb in (or on, actually) and swoop down the roof, become gloriously airborne over the yard, climbing like an eagle far above our neighborhood and the school, vanishing to the east, following Lindberg’s aerial trail all the way to Paris, where 1 would be honored as the first person to fly the Atlantic without an engine.
First, though, there was the problem of getting the aircraft to the roof. It was built of what my dad called ironwood and it weighed about as much as an iron stove. Ron and I could barely push it out of the garage, much less lift it to the roof. I sadly concluded that I would have to take my masterpiece apart and reassemble it on the roof. 1 had read about someone somewhere building an airplane in a basement and then realizing that it wouldn’t fit through the door. That guy had to disassemble his airplane, so why couldn’t I?
And so I did, and Ron and I hauled it up piece by piece with some rope we found. How my parents missed all this I’ll never know. Two kids hammering away at a pile of wood on top of a garage is something we didn’t see every day. Nonetheless, we accomplished the feat. My airplane was ready for its maiden flight.
I stationed Ron in the yard so he could later describe how elegantly the craft and 1 swooped off across the Atlantic. I climbed aboard and waved to him.
“Switch on! I called.
“Stitch only!” he returned. He didn’t know the right words, but it would do.
“Contact!” I called, and made revving airplane engine noises. I pushed off with my foot and my craft made slow grating progress down the shingles–to begin with. By the time we reached the edge of the shingles, the roof was sliding by at an alarming rate.
I really did think it would fly, just as 1 had earlier thought that pixie dust and a cape would let me fly. The pile of wood and I didn’t even clear the flower bed. We sort of slid over the edge of the roof and plummeted down the side of the garage  right into and on top of one of my mother’s huge climbing rose bushes.
Pieces of trellis and erstwhile airplane flew–the magic word–in every direction. I landed in a painful thornstuck heap and sat there, stunned not so much by the physical impact as by the realization that 1 hadn’t flown. My brother pounded over.
“Wow! That was cool! He exclaimed. “Do it again.”
“Oh, shut up, I said. That episode ended my attempts to fly beyond a few rubber and gas powered models. 

But Ron caught the vision. He learned to fly in the Army at Fort Gordon, GA, went into the Air Force and became an F-5 fighter jock and then, wanting a career with an airline, joined a C-130 unit out of Andrews to build multi-engine time.

He came through town on his way to Atlanta and his new job with Delta Airlines the day Amy was born in 1977. Ron put in 17,000 flight hours with Delta over 27 years and retired as a captain seven years ago. I only talked and thought about flying. But he put wings to his aspirations. He could fly.

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Voices United 2012

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Manassas Chorale and have been since August, 2003, after I retired from teaching. My wife Becky directs the Chorale and, with the phenomenal help of some incredible people, has grown the group from about 30 singers 20 years ago to its present size of about 100 singers. I am also somehow a part of the select pull-out group of 30 singers, the Chorale Ensemble. We do harder music and sing in a number of smaller venues. All this is the most fun anyone can have indoors.

Part of the Chorale has made an annual trip in December to Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg to sing as a part of their Candlelight Concert series for about a decade now. Generally about 60 singers make the trip and we finish the evening off with a dinner at a local restaurant. This past year, as we were singing in the altar area of the church, packed into the space very closely, I was surrounded by various vocal parts (which is how I prefer to sing SATB) and felt at one point as if I were a part of some large organism that breathed and moved together and produced the most wonderful sounds. Of course we have to breathe together to create a uniform sound and I’ve noticed that we tend to move in the same ways, even though we don’t do choreography. It was quite a revelation.

The people in the Chorale are some of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. They are almost without exception witty, warm, intelligent, talented, good-looking, faith-filled, responsible, community conscious and devoted to their families. It has been my distinct pleasure to come to know many of them.

This past weekend we experienced Voices United 2012, an annual choral event sponsored by the Chorale. Nearly 130 singers came together for a six-hour workshop with composer and musician Joseph M. Martin, who has written 1500 songs with 15 million copies out there. Martin conducted a seminar not only with the six songs that the VU 2012 Choir sang but also about the relationship between the arts in general and society. He considered music and its relationship to society and culture, talking about the interconnections between and among music, writing, visual art, sculpture, architecture, dance, photography, etc. He could very well teach a graduate level course on art and society.

Joseph talked about one of his anthems, “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go,” as being operatic in nature. It tells a story (of salvation), begins with the statement of a theme both musically and theologically (the “A” part), shifts to a minor treatment of the motif, a variation (or the “B” part), reaches the climax of the story (the Resurrection) with the restatement of the “A” section and closes with a coda, again both musically and narratively. Wow. To do this justice would require a recording of the text and an image of the music score, both of which would violate copyright provisions, so I must leave them out. If you’re interested you can go to and click on the “sample audio” button for a sample of the song.

Martin also  considered  the creative process, not only about music but also about the poetry he writes for lyrics to the songs. Much of what he said is good practice for any writer: working in odd pockets of time, revising, considering the freight and sound and heft of words, insisting on exactly the right word, and so on.

It was quite the weekend. I hope to explore some of these ideas further in future Biscuit City posts.


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Poem of the Week: Sonnet 116: William Shakespeare’s "Let me not to the marriage of true minds…"

Shakespeare was a total genius. (Late news just in!) Not only could he write plays and sonnets with the best of them, he could write better plays and sonnets than his contemporaries, and of course he is the gold standard by which all other writers are judged (and fall short).

At that time there were certain conventions in play-writing and poetry which lesser poets observed religiously. Shakespeare didn’t. He used the forms and traditions while at the same time working incredible changes on them. Example: Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, correct? Lots of killing and the “star cross’d lovers” tragically dead at the end. (I think they’re a couple of hormonal idiots, but that’s just me.) The change Shakespeare rings on the play is that it begins as a comedy (there are lovers separated by an obstacle–the families’ feud–who nonetheless come together with the help of not one but two tricky servants (the Nurse, Friar Lawrence) and there is a wedding. Up until Romeo kills himself, the play could have been a comedy (I know, Tybalt and Mercutio die, but they’re collateral damage of sorts. And hot-headed fools.). In fact, the Victorians hated sad endings and so re-wrote the last scene. Juliet wakes up in time; Romeo doesn’t kill himself and they run away and live happily ever after. But the ending as originally written is, you know, tragic.

Same thing with the sonnets. The tradition form and themes are worked with and worked over. The sonnet tradition said, “Tell us what love is in your sonnet.” William Shakespeare said, “Because I am an overwhelming genius, I will tell you what love is not in my sonnet.” And he did:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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