Thursday, May 19, 2011

`You Walking Off, Soft as New'

A simulacrum of spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest – unclouded sunlight, birdsong, greenery, mushrooms, the season’s first mosquito. As if to commemorate the belated event, Dave Lull sent a poem by Kay Ryan I hadn’t read before and that seems never to have been collected in her books. “Spring” appeared in the May 26, 2001, issue of The New Republic:

“It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as

The fantasy is appealing -- metamorphosis, shedding the shell of the old self, born again, radical spring cleaning. Perhaps an indelibly American fantasy, in the land of self-invention, with the “Territory ahead” always looming. Ryan should be congratulated for writing a poem about cicadas without mentioning the sound they produce with the tymbals on the sides of their abdomens. A stage in the development of a cicada or other insect, between molts, is known by a lovely word adopted unchanged from the Latin – “instar.” Go here to see “a crisp / freestanding you” (and visitor) and here for you “soft as / new.”

I find two more Ryan spring poems. “Sonnet to Spring” is from Elephant Rocks (1996):

“The brown, unpleasant,
aggressively ribbed and
unpliant leaves of the loquat,
shaped like bark canoes that
something squashed flat,
litter the spring cement.
A fat-cheeked whim of air—
a French vent or some similar affair—
with enough choices in the front yard
for a blossomy puff worthy of Fragonard,
instead expends its single breath
beneath one leathery leaf of loquat
which flops over and again lies flat.
Spring is frivolous like that.”

Ryan notices a peculiar phenomenon -- one leaf on an otherwise still afternoon abruptly flipping or even moving along the pavement. The convergence of vent (wind) and Fragonard is typical Ryanesque wit (so is the “front yard”/”Fragonard” rhyme. Go here for “frivolous.”

“Spring” is from Flamingo Watching (1994):

“Winter, like a set opinion,
Is routed. What gets it out?
The imposition of some external season
or some internal doubt?
I see the yellow maculations spread
across bleak hills of what I said
I’d always think; a stippling of white
upon the grey; a pink the shade
of what I said I’d never say.”

Here, too, spring is the new, what ought to be expected yet comes as a surprise. “Maculations” and “stippling” are lovely words for what some consider blemishes. Pink is the color of a blush, “the shade / of what I said I’d never say.”

1 comment:

Phil W said...

Gorgeous words.