Sestina, for yesterday, for M

September 30 2012 - NE

It rained all day yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

It came down cold, and thick. It was nearly snow, but not quite.

If you’d wanted an excuse to curl up under the covers and feel pitiful, that would have been enough.

But instead, there was a birthday to celebrate. Another year in a beautiful life. A life I’ve been allowed to share because one day I went to work on a usual week day and met him and started to laugh in a new way and one thing led to another which led to a summer midnight in Maine when he asked the crazy question and I said “sure” and here we are, celebrating another birthday (and many more!).

We shared the kitchen.
I made soup with smoked fish.
He made the world’s largest sandwich.
We sipped smoky Laphroig.
We lit the first fire of the season.
We went shopping for things we didn’t need, but wanted.
We read books.
We made an apple pie and missed our poor, old Golden Russet tree.
We talked about cider, smoke, cheese, goats.
We listened to music.

He reminded me of this sad-beautiful poem.

(I love that he loves poems. And old books. And stars. And paintings. And oak barrels. And bowls of soup. And wooden spoons. And wooly sweaters. And Cape Cod when it’s cold and the beach is empty. And silly songs. And games of Sorry.)

And the rain came down all that beautiful birthday day.


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

–Elizabeth Bishop

The unexpected

I woke this morning after battling four poisonous snakes in my dreams all night.

And I was in a sour and dour mood.

The rain last night was welcome, but this morning’s grey mist and darkening sky weren’t so.

I was disappointed in myself for some things, and disappointed in others for other things.

Then I heard that a wonderful writer had died last night, far too young, from that awful dreaded beast: cancer.

I really did start the day in tears (how melodramatic, I know).

But then I caught a slow groove.

I talked to my sister, and we made plans for a Toronto reunion coming soon.

I confessed my fears to M and he didn’t scoff. He told me some things I needed to hear, most particularly that he was behind me, no matter what.

In the car, H and I belted out a favorite old tune on the way into town.

In town, I discovered a new place to work, where the seats are comfortable and they sell baked goods and strong iced tea.

When I listened to the rebroadcast of the Fresh Air interview with the writer we had lost, I heard his voice, and he made me laugh. I didn’t expect to laugh today.

Then he recited an Elizabeth Bishop poem I ought to have known, but didn’t, and now I’m grateful I know it and will always connect it to his voice.

M sent me a beautiful song by one of our favorites singers, a song that we somehow had never heard before.

Little by little, today has revealed the unexpected to me. Ordinary, small gestures and moments that have changed the morning’s howl and growl to a softer feel. A bit bewildering, but entirely welcome.

Letter To N.Y.

For Louise Crane

In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so teribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

–Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

-Elizabeth Bishop