Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Autumn Garden

Cool mornings with frost and afternoons with slow sun have always meant one thing for me: sweater weather. Contrary to poetical history, autumn is not a season of melancholy for me. Quite the opposite for I find myself more awake and more capable of sitting at my desk for longer periods of time. Maybe I don't feel sadden by this season for the mere fact that unlike during the era of Yeats and Rilke, I have central heating and can throw a sweater on with the faintest hint of a chill and get to writing. Writing seems to make more sense this time of year for when the sun is shinning and warming the rivers, I feel guilty taping out my fingers to syllables in my head instead of swimming and putting my face to the sun.

Plus, I think it is too expected to be melancholy during the fall. If you only see the shades of trees rising like some phoenix to only fall in order to die, then perhaps your life may feel like you are walking in some battle field, some lone survivor on a sidewalk crowned by maple and oak. Yet this seems rather Victorian and indulgent. What if the leaves were reminding us more to merely let go? What if sugar maples find pride in their dark red October hues and wait until winds lets them move on, or leave (no pun intended).

Growing up surrounded by birch and maple forests, I had certain favorite fall trees. Trees that during the spring and summer seemed to just meld themselves into the mass of woods, but once autumn came the slow sense of change reminded me to take notice of each individual tree, as if each species offers a slightly different shade to the whole horizon. I like to watch time unfold itself in colors. As if slow moving waves reach their crest and then fall into sand, each tree peaks and then fades into just bare bark and limbs. Winter ready.

I haven't been to a more autumnal place than Poland. It wasn't the contrasts of color as much as it was the shades of gold that seemed to rise out of all the fields and cobblestone city gardens. Gold against brick or warn out grey blocked houses, gold in forests outlining smoke choked cities, gold in a single tree outside my class room window. And at night, the shades of rich yellow under lights illuminated streets and lightened shadows. It was a time of such light in what has been to easily seen as such a grey country.

The golden autumn of Poland wasn't just a time for trees, but also lovers. I recall public gardens being a common meeting place for dates. Some man wearing what sadly seemed like his dead uncle's suit with a long stemmed rose, would pace and run his thumbs under each fingers' nail, walking off nerves and anticipation. You see, when you live at your house (which often consisted of three rooms including the bathroom) with your entire family; physical space is an issue. So public gardens were open spaces waiting to be filled with couples entangled on park benches. PDA or public displays of affection in this context probably felt more private than stealing kisses over the kitchen table with your grandmother staring at you over a plate of boiled potatoes.

And so this poem I include today may not have autumn shades, but the autumnal flavor of rising from some fall. My favorite kind of love poem. Enjoy the leaves, the small reminders of learning to let go, and to embrace the season of sweater love.

In the Public Garden

Every gym class, Stevie Flowers pissed
his corduroys. He hated dodge ball,
stood in the corner or hid
from the bigger boys who broke
anything or anyone small.

He read Make Way For Ducklings
sat on his knees with Buddha's
slow smile. I knew even then
he would be the one who loved me.

I still remember the metallic
taste of the bat that summer
we played softball. He cupped my face
while my nose bled, told me later
he'd tape my glasses.

But later it was others who stood
outside my window, holding
a book of Yeats, fly open
with a half-drunk grin.
It's always a simple request
at first.

In the Boston Commons, I pause
at the ducklings in bronze, still
like the boy who read to me.
Somewhere there's a man
I'd never think to run from.

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