The last day of April and the air feels mildly thicker than it did a week ago, settling like a welcome lightweight wool blanket in the chilly evenings and mornings, but not yet stifling, as it will likely feel in another month.
The air curves around the house. Around the fragile new leaves. The air reshapes itself daily around the round goat (who is due to deliver her kids any day now), easing back slightly each day to leave her more space. The air lifts up the blades of grass that have been lying brown and compressed under the snow for months and then claims its space between the upright blades.
The air fills our mouths, shapes itself to our throats, makes words, makes songs.
In honor of the last day of April, the last day of National Poetry Month, and writer Annie Dillard’s birthday, here’s a part of a poem by Annie Dillard called “The Shape of the Air”. (You can see the full list of poems I’ve selected this month here.)
This is the final part of a four-part poem. The first describes the idea of the shape of the air, as it lies across the land, folds itself into objects and animals, slides under, around, and through. The second describes the interaction between wind and the shape of air. The third introduces the image of a birchbark canoe in an unnamed museum’s Hall of the Americas (perhaps the American Museum of Natural History?):
climbed in the museum’s birchbark canoe
in April, and has lived there since.
Crowds came, and thinned.
Visitors leave food.
In the final part, we have the air and the girl and the birchbark canoe.
The Shape of the Air
Around the Girl in the Birchbark Canoe
Willow and skins
make a calm-water bullboat;
it raises a bowlful of air from the floor.
There’s a thorn
of tipi up in the air, a splinter
of kayak. The top of the air
loops like an acrobat around the rough
sides of a forty-man dugout
hung from the roof.
The keel of the birchbark canoe
is pitched with resin;
the keel of the museum’s air still smells
of the volatile oils of pine.
The air around the birchbark canoe
is a spoon through the part in her lips.
Air makes inlets up her fingers,
When she moves,
the air sways and fills.
Air cups at her eyes.
Warm slabs of air
from her shoulders rise,
spread to the plaster dome.
concentric arcs of air
swell in a cone
of her mother
across wild white water.
–Annie Dillard, from “The Shape of Air”, Tickets For a Prayer Wheel, Copyright © 1974 by Annie Dillard
:: Sleet! Ice! Hail! Snow! This makes me happy. Why? Because it’s April and it just won’t last. Enjoy your last gasp, winter. I’ll see you next November.
:: In the mornings, the dog gets up with the rest of us, goes outside, has his breakfast, begs for H’s breakfast, stands by the door as I wave goodbye to M & H. And then you know what he does? He looks at me, he sighs a long, slow sigh, and then he trots back upstairs to bed for a couple of hours. He’s so smart that way.
:: I really wish my mom could see this!
:: New baking toys for my birthday.
:: April? Time for a pilgrimage.
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…
–Geoffrey Chaucer, from the “General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales