August: Complex Fatigue

On this August evening, a sparrow flies out of the wild raspberries along my walk and startles me just the slightest. Stunned a little from its flight through the leaves and small prickles, the sparrow fumbles from foot to foot on the path and then rises up on its wings and disappears. The swifts are out, too.

A downpour has fallen and the humidity has thickened right up again. I walk through the village, and folks are hanging out on porches. A three-quarters moon hangs over the empty high school soccer field, stunning. I’d write that it’s otherworldly in its beauty — but in this slow, sticky night it’s hard to imagine a sweeter world, even this one chockfull with chaos.

In the heat, tempers are either short or silly. Tomorrow is Vermont’s primary, so much fervor, and I wonder what all that might come to. In the evening, I talk to my cat, a tête-à-tête about why he cowers at the slightest noise, as if the house might be under attack by coyotes. You’re a housecat, I remind him, one of the most pampered creatures on the planet. He looks at me, poor ignorant thing that I am, and wisely keeps his ears pressed down and low like a spooked owl.

August. Time to share again one of the loveliest poems.

The world is a 

complex fatigue. The moth tries

once more, wavering desperately

up the screen, beating, insane,

behind the geranium. It is an

immense geranium,

the biggest I’ve ever seen,

with a stem like a small tree

branching, so that the two thick arms

rise against the blackness of

this summer sky, and hold up

ten blossom clusters, bright bursts

of color.

Hayden Carruth, “August First”

August Love

August is national picnicking month, I hear on the radio, in my crazy too-many hours of driving yesterday. I also catch an interview with a female comic whose voice reminds me I swear of all those August afternoons of picking blackberries. It’s not blackberry season yet, but soon will be. August often means the dirt roads have turned dusty.

First, I picked alone, then newly pregnant, then had a baby on my back, then all those years with a fat-wheeled hand-me-down stroller. Later, the children walked or biked. Our baby, on the back of her father’s bicycle, held out a hand and said blacks, blacks, hungry for the berries.

What to do with blackberries? Last August, the girls baked a tart with fresh peaches and blueberries, served it with maple-sweetened whipped cream.

That’s how good was this woman’s voice.

Home too late to swim, my daughter and I walk through the cemetery and down to the community gardens. Only the mist is out and a few women walking dogs.

August 1. We go to bed ridiculously early, because we get up ridiculously early. This morning, I open the windows to let in the gray dawn and its cut-grass scents. As a child, we camped nomadically, crawling out of the tent in the morning and discovering cold dew and trails of mist from the night. In the eternity of childhood, we were hungry for breakfast and whatever the day might bring.

Here’s Hayden Carruth’s August First poem, too good not to read again.

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Birthday Blessings

This afternoon, I stepped out of my library with a child to look at the sky. He was glad he had returned a stack of library books, a kind of clearing of his child conscience. In my clogs, I leaned against the building, a squall fattening in this valley, tucked up against Woodbury Mountain. What a winter this has been. Snowbanks dominate Hardwick like a pop-up mountain range.

Later, a friend and I leafed through a Vermont guide to wildflowers. Remember spring beauties? Remember trilliums?

Early March is my father’s birthday and, two days later, my mother’s. In their  80s now — old but not very old, not even close to very old — my parents who lived through WWII, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the eternity of the Reagan-Bush regime, through having careers and raising children, teaching and writing books and caring for the infirm and the dying, through decades of friends, through all the everydayness of living — and now through the particularly heartless regime of Trump — here’s Hayden Carruth’s birthday poem for love of a woman and love of living.

“Birthday Cake”

by Hayden Carruth

For breakfast I have eaten the last of your birthday cake that you
had left uneaten for five days
and would have left five more before throwing it away.
It is early March now. The winter of illness
is ending. Across the valley
patches of remaining snow make patterns among the hill farms,
among fields and knolls and woodlots,
like forms in a painting, as sure and significant as forms
in a painting. The cake was stale.
But I like stale cake, I even prefer it, which you don’t
understand, as I don’t understand how you can open
a new box of cereal when the old one is still unfinished.
So many differences. You a woman, I a man,
you still young at forty-two and I growing old at seventy.
Yet how much we love one another.
It seems a miracle. Not mystical, nothing occult,
just the ordinary improbability that occurs
over and over, the stupendousness
of life. Out on the highway on the pavement wet
with snow-melt, cars go whistling past.
And our poetry, yours short-lined and sounding
beautifully vulgar and bluesy
in your woman’s bitterness, and mine almost
anything, unpredictable, though people say
too ready a harkening back
to the useless expressiveness and ardor of another
era. But how lovely it was, that time
in my restless memory.
This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

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Reprieve

At the hardware store in town, the woman ringing up my chicken feed asks if I’m going out partying for New Year’s Eve.

Are you kidding me? I blurt out. Then I apologize and ask about her plans. I like these hardware store folks, with their humor, their can-do willingness to solve my piddling problems — a clogged bathtub drain, a stuck lamp switch.

The cold’s broken for December’s last day. Before dusk, I follow the raccoon tracks from my compost down the snow-crusty hillside, wondering where this creature lives.

Another of my daughter’s homemade calendars folded up and put away, the day-to-day record of our lives — work schedules and friends and dentist appointments — the stuff of our lives.

For this year? Stay solvent. Paint the kitchen gold, my bedroom turquoise. Swim in the Atlantic with my kids. Follow wild tracks and fill the creative well.

Why speak of the use
of poetry? Poetry
is what uses us.

— Hayden Carruth

 

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August First

August 1st dawns quietly — the songbirds winding down, the dew slipping in silently overnight — save for the cats who mew in hunger.

Yet another summer day, a small kind of miracle that will disappear, a day promising to be packed with work and obligations, with laundry hung on the line, and a very long list on a scrap of paper beside me.

But it’s August. Just a few blocks from where I sometimes work in Burlington is a fine bakery named after an even finer poem by Hayden Carruth.

August First

Late night on the porch, thinking
of old poems. Another day’s
work, another evening’s,
done…..

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Hardwick Reservoir, Vermont

 

Diving In

This in-between holiday week, our unstated goal has been to swim twice a day — in the midday hard heat and in the dusky evening, when the surface of the water holds warmth and our feet trail into the cooler eddies beneath.

We’re drinking our fill of milkweed blossoms, the reflection of clouds in rippling ponds, ice cream cones — as if this stockpiling might carry into the white and gray palette of Vermont’s winter.

I wonder what became of
purity. The world is a
complex fatigue….
(The geranium flowers) are clusters of richness
held against the night in quiet
exultation, five on each branch,
upraised. I bought it myself
and gave it to my young wife
years ago, in a plastic cup
with a 19cent seedling
from the supermarket, now
so thick, leathery-stemmed,
and bountiful with blossom.

— Hayden Carruth, “August First”

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Hardwick, Vermont