A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Rainy and cold today. About forty degrees, with the gutters mumbling as rain lands against the roof and shatters. The flowers are blooming, some of them already wilting a little on their slender necks. The maples are leafing out, with little collars of green fur at all the branch ends, like girls preening in their new long-sleeved dresses before the dance recital. I sit here in my winter sweater, gazing out of the study windows, the rain clinging in blisters to each pane. Such distortions of the world began the whole experiment in Impressionism and broke open reality with a palette knife, a gob of paint tufted and creased to imitate the rubbery condition of puddles standing in a Paris street. Even the people hurrying by were disintegrating in their long coats and mufflers, with the shops behind beginning to melt away into dreams. Here the stark black skeletons of the trees tremble and absorb the watery dismemberment of daylight. No birds in view; no walkers out for their mid-day stroll. The bikers are home tuning up thin-wheeled bikes and hanging them up on hooks in the garage.
The daffodils with water-logged hoods remind me of how I felt walking in the hallway of my school feeling crushed after the girl I had kissed the night before passed without looking up. I couldn’t understand her change of heart; I thought we would walk together to the cafeteria, to the bus stop after school. Now, I was in some desolate unused part of the corridor where the lockers hung open, catching my hopeless look in the window of the emergency station, a fire ax hanging by hooks inside. In what coil of the female soul does remorse emerge and voice some muttering advice to be afraid? The rain is falling down the lush slopes of her emotions, filling the dark gold river coursing through her. She is happier without my hand caressing her fingers, my voice chatting away aimlessly as we stood together. She’s vanished now, not even a ghostly silhouette at the back of memory. But the ache remains. All the hills that surround the suburb where I lived shivered in the thin afternoon light. A breeze picks up and begins to tinker with the weeds, the tall willowy grass of the fields. Teachers’ cars were beginning to thin out from the parking lot; the librarian’s car, rusty and faded, still idled at the curb while she wheeled a suitcase out to the trunk. She was leaving on vacation. A big woman, with heavy jowls and short flabby arms, was struggling to hoist the suitcase up into the trunk. The janitor rushed over to help her. She was too moody to thank him, and drove off without waving. He stood there a moment with his broom and dustpan, and ambled away into the cold hallway behind the gymnasium.
The institutions of my youth were made of paranoid brick and mortar, with the Cold War hanging over every doorway with vague warnings. You felt the tension of the world in your gut, even after you wolfed down your burger and fries and slopped up the melting ice cream from your saucer. No matter how you walked or sat or stood up to pledge allegiance, there was a nausea spreading its black shadow in your soul. The spring rain did not wash away the flaws of democracy, the rusty girders holding up your faith. You pulled on your shoes just as the school bus was arriving with squealing brakes and a blast on its horn. You could take the three bold leaps from the front step to the gate and just slip through the doors as they were closing. Off you went with all those other long faces staring at you, or gazing out into the dusty hedges and whipped branches. How bleak it all seemed, with that gift of being young feeling like loose change in your pocket. Where to spend it? How much would it take to buy a BB gun, some ammo, a few squirrels moving sluggishly over head.
The ground is as soft as a cat’s belly, silky even. The power that throbs below is pushing up weeds, dandelions, bright pink thistles, a whole jewelry box of bling and gaudy puffballs. The mayhem of creativity is let loose in pure blind anarchy as you stand there, wondering what else might be whipped up out of such boundless energy. The earth was in labor, and its heaves of breath kept performing these voluptuous miracles. A bloated tuber lay exposed, with iridescent worms making a lattice around its phallic shape. Bodies were submerged in the oozing black pudding, as the magicians rushed around in the depths of the primordial world. It was some aspect of immortality that lay beyond my grasp to understand. The same pounding, pulsing energy would be here urging the mesh of green complexity upward into the light long after I was gone. It was here before I was born, long before I was born. I wasn’t missed, I was simply pushing the shadows aside to sit down and be an observer of this impersonal manifestation of nature’s soul.
Rain peppers the trash can lid; the tarp over the woodpile is throbbing with little taps from the rain’s fingers. The lone robin above, in an overhanging limb, observes me standing their getting darker as my clothes become sodden. I can’t go in, I can’t sit in the lonely room with its windows full of cold mercury light. I have to be out here like some reporter on the neurotic behavior of a new season. The house looms over me like Noah’s ark, vast and frightening as it awaits the tumult of the great flood. I will be asked to climb up the ramp and enter into the stinking air of the animal rooms, with their bleats and muffled barks, quacks, snarls, warning hisses, yawns, snapping jaws, slitherings. The little childish quirks of saplings are trying to make me laugh, but I am worried about something. I feel the dread of some impending thunder about to crack over me. But it is only spring, gentle, zephyr-breathed spring with its spores and microbes, its fertile perfumes calling the rest of comatose nature to wake up and dance.
A car wanders past me on the way into the tear-stained town; the roofs are as dark as bad dreams, and the traffic lights are forlorn as they blink on and off and direct the ghostly events of an empty street. I will be making coffee and toasting a slice of bread in a few moments. I must have my rituals, my routines to scratch on the empty morning hour. My life is a bare branch that has yet to throw out buds; the long arduous task of blossoming lies ahead, and I must husband all my energy for the struggle. But right now, I am tiptoeing around in the ankle-high monkey grass, getting the cuffs of my new trousers wet. From a distance, some bird might mistake my motion as a grotesque ballet, something human beings do when they think no one is looking.
The soul is hungry in spring, and there is only the crisp, silent air to feed it. Somewhere the students are preparing their spring play and the teacher is guiding them toward the confines of a plot. All their infinity is being wedged down into dialog and little scenes, and the girls, as bright as diamonds, are giggling to themselves while the boys hike up their pants and stare. Even they are part of the mummery, the antics of pagan joy. Soon, the doors will fling open and the last hour will arrive as they go home to the soft rain falling, the gentle ripples of the lawn below their bedroom windows. The birds will sing with a lisp about the mystery of first love, and the clouds will grind by like ancient Mardi Gras floats. Summer will open its book and read from the wisdom of Greek lust. Nothing can stop the piston from pushing up more and more effusions and lyrical exaggeration, the chaotic music of drunkenness and deliriums. The powerful elixir of innocence is luring everyone toward the forbidden, and only supper can throw its net over the allure of a summer night with its inducements of baked potatoes and gleaming strips of meat. After that, the streets will wind into the darkness again, promising impossible futures to anyone who ventures to follow.
Copyright 2021 Paul Christensen.
Paul Christensen is a poet and writer who lives in Vermont.