Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Summer is here. Saturday night, a “Full Strawberry Moon,” according to the Farmer’s Almanac: "This name was universal to every Algonquin tribe. In Europe they called it the Rose Moon." Earlier in the week, the Summer Solstice, always a favorite in my household.

The heat and humidity are overpowering. Reluctantly, we retreat into our air-conditioned house, with the thermostat set to a guilty 82 °F. most of the time. We had a cold winter here, for south central Indiana, with six blessed “snow days” extending the school year to a palatable June 1 release. Now, we are having an early, hot summer. The contrasts are stark. (Thoughts of global warming are inescapable, and the BP disaster continues to pump unprecedented quantities of spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico.)

Every year, I approach summer thinking it will be a blessed contrast to the school year, relaxed, giving rise to a completely different frame of mind for a good 6 weeks. This habitual misapprehension is, in part, a ruse to distract myself from the accrued losses of departing students, friends, and hard-won routine at the end of each academic year. I have always, from a young age, found myself reluctant to move beyond the comfort I have achieved (not always easily), with teachers, classmates, living situations, by the end of the spring semester. 
Having lived my whole life in academic communities (to my utter surprise), I still have not come to terms with this sense of loss, and the corresponding anxiety that accompanies the peeling off each spring of certain friends and acquaintances into other communities, other destinies, distinctly “other” paths of life.

I remember my childhood summers as endless, in a mostly positive way, allowing for a gradual accretion of sameness and satiation of my own direction of my own activities, preparing me to once again subordinate myself to the tutelage of teachers, music instructors, and peers. I miss this sense of vacillation between structure and non-structure. The divisions seem sadly blurred in modern life.

So far, this summer has brought extreme fragmentation, between the various pursuits of my 10- and 14-year-old daughters, the international travel of my husband to various conferences, visits to our aging parents (from whom we have strayed geographically about as far as possible within the continent), and my attempts to hold a work life together.

As I drove my youngest to yet another violin engagement the other day, she commented on how, with the trees all in full leaf, it is almost impossible to imagine how bare and stark they were not long ago. The contrasts are hard to process, yet one has almost to work to not acknowledge them. Indeed.
In celebration of this celestial, if not always as in-the-flesh-as-one-would-like turning of the seasons, I offer companion poems on Winter and Summer Solstice. To help us appreciate the miraculous contrast.

Summer Solstice
My girls, twisted in ropes of sheets,
Toss and turn, long
Illuminating thoughts
That usually turn easily
Toward sleep.
They can’t sleep, can’t sleep, cannotsleep.

Nor can the grownups sleep.
Near 3, when I doze at last,
Light streams in again, from the kitchen,
Where my husband, alone, in briefs,
Spoons slow ice cream from the carton.
I retreat to a far corner of the house,
Unconscious for a desperate few hours.

I remember nights
In a white frame house on Center Avenue.
Hearing from my low bed below the windows,
Later, luckier children than I,
Calling out, the clatter of a coffee can
Kicked to end the game,
Jangling buzz of cicadas,
The neighbors’ dog eagerly barking,
My sister’s restless thoughts
From the next bed,
The seductive tinkle of an ice cream bell
One street over.

Let me store up this sleeplessness,
Allow this suffusion of luminescence,
Of hot energy to fill me,
Fuel me, into days and nights
Of oncoming darkness.

These last days draw down
Toward the solstice.
Sun at its lowest slant
Deep in the horizon, the light,
Thin and pale, concentrates
Itself into a few bare hours,
Creates what intensity it can
From scant essentials.

I would do the same. In this season
Of every excess,
We ward off darkness
With gathering and celebration,
As our ancestors
Scattered across the northern landscapes
Hoarded light and company at the table.

Let me, too, cling to essentials:
Breath, life, love.
Let me treasure my treasures:
Faithful partner, children, dog,
That walk in bleak light,
Stripped trees reaching toward
The waning glow,
A warm cup cradled in chill hands.
Soon enough, the turn will come, the days
Incrementally lengthen out to contain
An abundance of brightness and soft fruits,
The easy dilution of slow hours
By darkness outlasted.

Mary, for the Poplar Grove Muse

1 comment:

  1. Mary, your lovely piece made me long for my childhood days of summer spent at the pool in Roberts Park and with my cousins on their farm. I also experience the ebb and flow of the university community. It's very quiet here now, and I know it will all too soon be raucous and noisy here at the IDS, so I enjoy it while I am able. But it's still difficult, even having been here 15 years, to adjust to the leave taking of favorite students. Facebook helps me stay in touch with former students who are flung world wide. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and both poems which felt rich and sensuous. Thanks for sharing.