Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Spring, again...

It is hot on the island tonight. The first really hot night of the year, I think. It feels less like spring now than it does like summer, and the internet tells me that the American Memorial Day is the unofficial start of that season anyway. Maybe May 24 is our unofficial summer start. Or maybe it should be.
In any case, I am not yet ready to relinquish the first season of the year. I want spring, and its green conflagration to remain awhile. Summer will be long and hot enough, and fall, like spring, will be regrettably short.
For spring, for that brief, lovely spring, I offer you another poem on that subject, with a decidedly different take. Lilacs were an important part of my spring last year, and are shaping up to be again. My neighbourhood has several trees of them, and my walks often take me by them; their scent is everywhere this time of year, the smell of them is a powerful signifier of spring.  Maybe, gentle reader, the hours will carry you, as well, into June...


Fill yourself up with the forsythias
and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too
with your blood and happiness and wretchedness,
the dark ground that seems to come with you.

Sluggish days. All obstacles overcome.
And if you say: ending or beginning, who knows,
then maybe—just maybe—the hours will carry you
into June, when the roses blow.

Summer days have their charm as well, I suppose, depending on what, or whom, one compares them to...

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Small Truths...

Another poem, as these are a feature in my life these days, and a welcome one at that. By coincidence, this poem appeared twice in my life in rapid sequence, which I personally take to be an auspicious occurrence. That's just me, though.

By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me 
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what 
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: 
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page. 
(I hear New York too.) Me---who? 
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. 
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. 
I like a pipe for a Christmas present, 
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach. 
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like 
the same things other folks like who are other races. 
So will my page be colored that I write? 
Being me, it will not be white. 
But it will be 
a part of you, instructor. 
You are white--- 
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. 
That's American. 
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me. 
Nor do I often want to be a part of you. 
But we are, that's true! 
As I learn from you,
 I guess you learn from me--- 
although you're older---and white--- 
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Spring...

Ah, Spring. When a young man's thoughts turn to love.
Spring comes to Montreal quickly. When I saw this poem the other day, its imagery of the green flame, the conflagration of life, of spring, reminded me of the sudden burst of spring on the Island:


This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up, and the flickering, watery rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, these sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.

Spring comes to Montreal Quickly. But spring also comes to Montreal like the proverbial double edged sword. It lifts the grinding, grey weight of the last days of winter, true. But it come so very, very quickly. One week, snow, and all the cumbersome accoutrements, all the boots and scarves, gloves and heavy coats. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, hot sun and green grass, flowers and budding trees, shoes with no socks and t-shirts. Even the sweaters, those perfect symbol of spring layering, gone.
Spring was particularly elusive for me this year, to add to the turmoil. A few well timed trips broke up the habitual coming of spring on the Island for me. A return to my ancestral home thrust me back into the cruel maw of winter, a few brief days after the first glimmer of spring appeared on the fair Isle. An epic roadtrip to Syracuse (University conference; work) and then a flight to Vancouver (family vacation; play) further added to the confusion. Syracuse was far enough south to be in full bloom, and Vancouver's climate ensured the cherry trees were pink to greet my coming.
But the Vancouver spring is not the spring of my Island home. It is much more the spring of my ancestral home, cool, and damp, gray. The sun comes more rarely, but is the more welcome for it, perhaps. Fog and rain and mist, with views of the English Bay reminded my of my love of the shore, surely bred in the bone, if forgotten from time to time. Every boy dreams of boats, and pirates, lagoons lost and found, maybe.
Vancouver is a beautiful city, to be sure.
My return to the Island further upset the rhythm of spring. For my Island had turned back the clock, and a week of warm sunny weather (the week, of course, that I was on the West Coast) was displaced by rain, and temperatures easily counted on both hands, and sometimes on one alone.
But yesterday... Ah, yesterday. A true spring day. Sun, but not to hot. Cool in the shade, and breezes. A long walk with someone special, and a barbecue with good friends. Pilfered lilacs (the lilac have bloomed, gentle reader, and my heart is glad for it) as a gift, and naps in the cool evening air.
A very fine day indeed, gentle reader. A very fine spring day indeed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction"

I received an email, sometime last week, exhorting me to return a book I had borrowed from the library of an institution of higher learning other than my own. It took me a moment or two to remember why I had even taken that book out. It was not the type I usually check out of academic libraries. It was Catch as Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings, a collection by Joseph Heller.
I had checked it out with the intention of finding in it a line I remembered reading as a child, in a publication I probably shouldn't have been reading. I had mentioned the line to a friend in the context of
discussion I probably shouldn't have been having. The line had something to do with an old man, in a hospital bed, fingering the lacy edge of the nurse's slip, because that was as much as she would allow him. I wanted to find the quote for my friend, the context, the original language, knowing I had not done it justice.
It's funny, the things we remember. I looked, with some urgency, in the collection for the story I knew held the sought-after line. There were two potential stories, where there should have been one. it was a story, I knew, that served as a sequel of sorts to Catch-22, Heller's masterwork. In any case, I can read quickly, and so two stories were no real impediment, save the fact that I was under unrelated deadlines.
But my line, my hem-fingering hero, was nowhere to be found. I had, Gentle Reader, remembered it all wrong.
There was another set of stories that ran in the aforementioned publication I oughtn't to have been reading. Involving an assassin, a gun for hire, a knight-errant. Perhaps he was the aged man in the hospital bed, perhaps he is the one I was looking for.
I'll try to find him, Gentle Reader, now that I know my mistake.