Saturday, October 17, 2009

`An Early, Innocent Lust'

“The barbed-wire fences rust
As their cedar uprights blacken
After a night of rain.
Some early, innocent lust
Gets me outdoors to smell
The teasle, the pelted bracken,
The cold, mossed-over well,
Rank with its iron chain…”

Rain falls after months of near-drought. Dust is mud, grass is green, leaves decoupage sidewalks. In the courtyard of the grade school where I worked Friday, two crows harvested shiny green grass, buffered from kids and competition. On the way home, waiting for the light, I saw last summer’s teasle, now brown, growing along the guard rail, wet and swaying in the rain, and I thought of the opening lines, quoted above, of Anthony Hecht’s “After the Rain” (collected in Millions of Strange Shadows, 1977).

Teasle, sometimes spelled teasel, from the Old English tæsel -- “large thistle used in teasing cloth.” “To tease” means “to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking action” -- the fourth definition in Webster’s Third. The first is “to disentangle and lay parallel by combing or carding.” Girls I knew in junior high school teased their bouffants into cotton candy, teasing the boys.

The wind, rain and low skies are a strip tease, a stripping away of the year's inessentials. I saw my name in print for the first time as a high-school sophomore. An English teacher submitted one of my essays, "November," to the school literary magazine, Lit Bits. I described the sky as “pewter-colored” and aped Thomas Wolfe’s prose. Here is the final stanza of “After the Rain”:

“Yet what puzzles me the most
Is my unwavering taste
For these dim, weathery ghosts,
And how, from the very first,
An early, innocent lust
Delighted in such wastes,
Sought with a reckless thirst
A light so pure and just.”

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