Either the picture on the front is wrong, and the words are just right,
or the picture is great, but the words don’t quite say what I wanted

That’s what my engineer father told me
by way of explanation about the last card he sent.
I re-read the words crossed out, note the
handwritten substitutions in all caps floating
in spaces between lines. What he took out,
what he added– and why–intrigue me.

I think of this as I open the blank slates
of valentine cards in the grocery store,
each with black and white blocks of words
that fit only approximate passions, hypothetical lovers.

If my father’s message was a patchwork puzzle
of borrowed words, the emotions were entirely his,
no code, no cipher here. I wish he were around
so I could tell him:
an empty envelope would have been enough
this one hot pink
with a commemorative postage stamp,
printed with I LOVE YOU
and a tiny red heart.