Tuesday, August 03, 2010

`Forever is Deciduous'

“Now summer grasses, brown with heat,
Have crowded sweetness through the air;
The very roadside dust is sweet;
Even the unshadowed earth is fair.”

From my seat at the picnic table under the big-leaf maple, the field was a haze of dust pierced by dragonflies. I was still cool and fresh; the boys, hot, dusty and happy playing kickball. The first day at Cub Scout camp and I was reconciled. My job as nature instructor had been eliminated so boys can build catapults from plastic cups and rubber bands, and shoot dry dog food (“asteroids”) through a hoop. No one cared, so why should I? The week’s theme is outer space. Our den has been renamed “Orion” and by default I was elected to pen the den cheer:

“Orion! Orion!
We ain’t cryin’!
Orion! Orion!
We keep tryin’!
Orion! Orion!
Now we’re flyin’!”

The camp is a long narrow clearing bisected by a gravel road. The edge of the woods is mostly maples and blackberry thickets, beyond which loom fat cedars shrouding the woods in deep shadow even at noon. I packed Dickinson in my bag: “Forever is deciduous-- / Except to those who die--.” By late afternoon we were hot and sweaty, and kept the water flowing. We picked blackberries. I like the ritual of flag raising and lowering but detest the goofy songs and games, most of which assume children are uniformly retarded. I tried to focus my boys and others, with some success, on crows, lichens, moss, cabbage butterflies and those lovely sour berries. The stanza at the top is by Yvor Winters, packed in my bag with Dickinson. The poem is “A Summer Commentary” and this is the final stanza:

“Amid the rubble, the fallen fruit,
Fermenting in its rich decay,
Smears brandy on the trampling boot
And sends it sweeter on its way.”

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

Sounds like you're well-provisioned, word wise, for the duration.

Winters' Summer bisects this nicely, like patches of flowers spied inside brambles at day's beginning and end. Careful with the Dickinson, though, clipping her too closely can sour the flavors -- or make you forget you have to do this all over again tomorrow:

"Departing then — forever —
Forever — until May —
Forever is deciduous
Except to those who die —"

There's late Summer bittersweet in these passages. I think of "Indian Summer" by Sara Teasdale:

"Lyric night of the lingering Indian summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
Ceaseless, insistent.

The grasshopper's horn, and far off, high in the maples
The wheel of a locust slowly grinding the silence,
Under a moon waning and warn and broken,
Tired with summer.

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember you, soon the winter will be on us,
Snow-hushed and heartless.

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction
While I gaze, oh fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them."