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The vernal equinox came and went, like a cat creeping over the newly sprouted heads of anonymous weeds. You hardly knew, unless you were listening to NPR, that such an event was coming due. The sun was exactly angled at the horizon, and all that solar archery was piercing the cloud fleece and landing at the primordial waist of the planet. Then we began the journey to longer days. I felt it in my bones. I also felt it in my soul, because with the equinox comes my birthday each year, a few days early each time. My physical complaints lifted off me and I almost felt like dancing, though an aging gray beard is not a pretty sight for passersby. So I restrained my joy. I observed my scrappy little window garden and admired the thick pulse of spring ardor breaking ground and sending up these vivid pennants of the new season. How happy it made me feel. I have been down so long, well . . . it began to look up to me. But now it was real. I wore a light sweater and the sun was warm on my back. The war in Ukraine was in a stalemate. The ogre of the Kremlin, a tsar-wannabe, a washed up KGB colonel with nothing but his long tables and his spineless generals seated at a safe distance at the far end of drafty doorways, saying yes in an incantatory fashion as he mumbled his demands.
But the great cobble-stoned cities were crumbling and turning black from the constant bombardment of cluster bombs and now a hypersonic missile to take out the vast Retroville shopping mall in Kyiv. Hulks of once vibrant apartment blocks were now spectral towers in the smoky morning air. A boy on a bike weaved along in the empty street, as old men gathered to whisper to one another. Underground were mazes of bunkers filled with frightened mothers and children, waiting to hear the next bombing raid. They had rushed down the darkened stairs to lay out blankets and pillows and to make the children feel safe. Sirens wailed thinly in the cold air, and then the planes began their murderous descents. Putin’s vision is of a hollowed out country of endless ruins, a kind of expanded version of the Dresden ruins of WWII. This ancient breadbasket of Europe, which has fed the continent with its wheat and corn, was now fallow, a wasteland of crumbling fields and idled tractors. Who knows where it will all end, but spring has come and awakened the earth’s imagination. It stirs and announces itself with snowbells and fertile branch ends, with buds swelling at the delicate tips of tree limbs.
Listening to Ketanji Brown Jackson take questions from Senator Ted Cruz at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing was inspiring. She kept her cool, she answered respectfully, raised all the right doubts about his dishonest and fragmentary research into her written record. She was wise to all the bias and distortion of which he was capable. They were alums from Harvard Law, and shared that rarefied education experience, even though it had turned them into mortal enemies. He cited Marxist doctrine, critical race theory, lenient sentencing of sex offenders, all the drab hearsay peddled by the religious right and the fiercely loyal Trumpists still clinging to the fading dream of racial hegemony. Thank God she didn’t blink. She smiled brightly, she wrote things down she could parry with her detractor, she looked good in her fiery pink suit. She was a marvel to behold.
Meanwhile, birds have taken notice of me as I rambled around on the newly greening sod of my front yard. A blue sky spread out against a band of yellow gold on the horizon, and one could only think of Ukraine’s flag and take a deep breath. So many events colliding at this hinge of the year. Like the season itself, there was the ghostly breath of winter in the pillaged and burnt-out remains of towns and villages to our east, and the celestial trumpet blasts of Gabriel as spring arrived on the shoulders of Botticelli’s amoretti. Life and death bound together like liana vines clinging to a wild fig tree. Remorse and joy at the same exhilarating moment — mothers cringing, children looking about wide-eyed at the strange crowds huddled together, soldiers limping around on bandaged feet, old women stirring big, charred pots of vegetable soup and ladling out dented tin bowls to the hungry. It was life at the point of a spear, at once radiant with the urge to survive, and grimly stained and soiled by the hatred in the human soul.
So I sat there in my easy chair staring glumly at the confirmation hearing, trying to be grateful that an old ceremony to vet the next juror to the highest bench was in progress, but at the same, being distorted by the hard-core southern Republicans using the occasion to start their mid-term campaigns to win back the Senate and the House of Representatives. More of the binary of reality that has seized this moment in our history. Not even my mug of coffee could offer me solace or a reason to rejoice. I wanted Jackson to succeed, to keep her smile, to not set her jaw too firmly in her expressive face, but to soldier on and get through this gauntlet of bias and false allegations, and be greeted by her family at the end of it. But in the middle of the ordeal, we were left with clenched fists and a room with tiny moths floating about looking for a bite of wool to nibble on.
Everywhere I gazed, behind me at a waking primal world of wild onions in the garden, dozing maples offering a few branches on which to host the crows, a mica-glinting stretch of stagnant water in a field below us, slatey clouds beginning to gather to drop some sleet or perhaps just icy-cold rain. And back at the TV where voices murmured on the TV, and the soporific pace of senatorial rhetoric hypnotized even the most ardent liberal, along with the drone of self-serving and irrelevant posturing by the diehards. Hard to stay seated, hard not to shout at the screen one’s indignation, hard not to think of the men rushing down a hill to a road where Russian tanks were groaning on their treads. Harder still to think of the man positioning his Javelin launcher on his shoulder to take out another iron warhorse struggling up an embankment to get a better shot of a village house.
Somewhere south of here, well south into the rolling hills of Louisiana and then Texas, and beyond, into the windy hills of New Mexico, were wild flowers performing their amateur ballets. Overhead, the redwing blackbirds were singing in falsetto voices on their way to their nests. A snake newly thawed from winter was unwinding its Faberge skin to luxuriate in a tiny pool of black water before pouncing on some cricket for breakfast. I imagined houses on a hill gleaming in the morning radiance, and a woman coming out to water her tiny garden of sprouting herbs. Oh to be offered a cup of coffee and a biscuit in brown gravy, a friendly conversation that ignored all traces of fear or anxiety about the war, about the turmoil of a polarized Congress, about the devastating assault on voting rights and so-called critical race theory. Oh just to be breathing the chill air of spring with someone who lived apart from her smart phone and computer, who didn’t turn on the TV to watch Fox News. Who mended her daughter’s sweater with her long fingers and her squinting eyes. But I’m here, in the rags and tatters of the old season, in my threadbare cardigan, gazing down at my mug of cold coffee, fidgeting like someone in the waiting room of a dentist’s office.
The rose wanders over the Spartan world of New England in early spring, gazing down out of its long-lashed eyes at the ground where the carnival of nature had not yet set up its colorful tents and midway, where the voluptuous odors of love were not yet in their prime for the mating season. The rose opens her diaphanous wings and travels on, waiting for the garden that would welcome her services to the bees and the monarch butterflies.
Copyright 2022 Paul Christensen
Paul Christensen is a writer and poet who divides his time between Vermont and the South of France.