Across the Street
By Austin Segrest
I ran across the street, I didn’t know any better.
Ran out in the street, I didn’t know no better.
I just knew a woman was there, though I’d never met her.
She sat me in her parlor, distracted me with trinkets,
milky glass birds and fish, distracting trinkets.
She said my mother would be fine, but did she think it?
The world was a blur of crystal wings and fins.
My tears were casked in crystal, wings and fins.
She was the first of many lady-friends.
The tree shadows shortened, she brought me a drink of water.
Morning matured, she brought me a glass of water.
I drank it so fast, she went and brought another.
I kept looking out the window, she didn’t ask me what for.
I watched out that window, she didn’t ask what for.
The seconds broke off and lay there on the floor.
I imagined my mother’s route, as far as I could.
Her long morning walk, followed as far as I could.
Nothing I could do would do any good.
Suffer the little children, and forbid them not.
Christ said suffer the little children, and forbid them not.
Said love thy neighbor, sometimes she’s all you got.
I take a hurried walk on Nature Conservancy land in a slot of time between working hours and a planning commission meeting. I duck beneath the electric fence and wander up an old farm road and discover the most enchanting sight I’ve seen in a long time.
Bright blue forget-me-nots sprinkle the unmown road. Heifers graze in pasture on the other side of enormous sugar maples. The pasture glows amber in the late afternoon, humid light. It’s cool enough this afternoon that I’ve pulled on jeans beneath my dress, and my sandals have been switched for hiking boots. The woods are deep and lush.
This is Wallace Stegner land. He loved this Vermont town and lies buried in a town cemetery on the other side of the lake. As I walk, I’m reminded of his famous lines.
“We simply need that wild country available to us…. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”~ Wallace Stegner
This space of wildness wraps all around where I live, winding in and around these Vermont towns. Mighty — these trees and fields — but just as dear are these tiny blossoms, sprinkled all through the forest, far up in the woods where they disappear from sight.
Note the wood smoke from our chimney….
Note this photo was taken yesterday afternoon, when I walked outside and nearly froze the soles of my feet. Note snow surrounded our house this morning….
Note that spring comes hard, hard, in Vermont. Jumping the starting block a few days, I keep thinking of T.S. Eliot’s lines:
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
The first time I read these lines was in high school, digging into the poetry stacks in the school library, mesmerized by lines like Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky….
Later, later, spring will bloom in all its tender-petal beauty. But for now…. T.S. Eliot knows the score in Vermont.
Eligo Lake, Greensboro, Vermont
BY LINDA GREGG
I would like to decorate this silence,
but my house grows only cleaner
and more plain. The glass chimes I hung
over the register ring a little
when the heat goes on.
I waited too long to drink my tea.
It was not hot. It was only warm.
This afternoon, I tore through my bookshelves searching for a paperback copy of Hermann Hesse’s Demian, a book I first read in high school. The book above — brand-new, Harley Rustad’s Lost in the Valley of Death — reminds me of Demian. Like so many other people, in some ways reading Hesse as a young woman shaped my life, every one of my years off the well-trod path. Demian has reappeared at certain keys points in my life, always rising with a strangely mysterious power. At the end of a very long winter, that book returns to me like a breath of spring air.
Fittingly, perhaps, I’m unable to find my copy. Maybe that hardly matters. For the first time in months, I take a long hatless walk, listening to the singing birds, remembering the unstoppable power of spring, and that the world wraps around us in ways we understand, and in ways we’ll never comprehend.
On this sunny Sunday in Vermont, here’s a few lines from the incomparable W. H. Auden on the nature of war. For more about this poem, the New York Times has an essay today.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along…
Long before the pandemic, the trees
knew how to guard one place with
roots and shade. …
Now is our time to practice–
singing from balconies, sending
words of comfort by any courier,
hoarding lonesome generosity
to shine in all directions like stars.— Kim Stafford, “Shelter in Place”