“Having lived for none of these Etruscan things, we learned the text by heart.” (Ann York)

in memory

These warmer days as we approach the vernal equinox (I believe it’s March 20, at 21:58) are a gift. On Saturday we spread compost over the raspberry beds (“Long Barrow” and “Raspberry Beret”) and the garlic bed (“Wild Lilies”). John saw a bee. I didn’t. But yesterday I heard tree frogs as I tidied the herbs and potted roses and bulbs on the west-facing deck. The past few nights have been loud with owls, two barred owls calling back and forth, and a saw-whet just beyond the bedroom window, its insistent too-too-too-too-too-too an indication that the mice are plentiful and the temperatures just right.

I planted agapanthus yesterday, remembering as I did the beautiful title poem of an old friend’s second book. She has disappeared from my life but her poem lingers, particularly on nearly-spring days when poetry is what my heart longs for:

War. Piracy. Trade. Industry. Agriculture. Having lived
for none of these Etruscan things, we learned the text by heart.
Afternoons, when the Australian sun poured down its spears of heat,
we studied in the shade:
some beneath the eucalyptus tree,
more against the wall by the madonna-lily bed…

–Ann York, “Agapanthus” from Agapanthus (Sono Nis, 1987)

I was awake early. When I went to pee, I saw two bright stars above Mount Hallowell to the east. One of them was Saturn, I think, and the other smaller one possibly one of Saturn’s moons. A little later, John and I were talking in bed and we saw Jupiter in the southern sky, framed by Douglas fir boughs. Silent wishes were made. A few weeks ago, none of this would have been possible—planting agapanthus (the soil still frozen), watching planets in a velvet sky (everything was overcast), hearing tree frogs sing their joy. Though the owl operas began in January, I guess, and they were joined by coyotes who are quiet, now that they’ve mated.

The other thing I did this weekend is finish the essay I think will be the title piece of the collection I’m working on: “Blue Portugal”. I began it some time ago but put it aside while I wrote other essays and finished a novella. There was something missing, I thought, and I figured if I waited, I’d learn what it was. It was music. I should have known. So over the weekend I listened to Janáček, his folk-song arrangements and the piano cycle “On an Overgrown Path” and found a way to write what I needed to write. And when I added the essay to those I’ve already written, I see that I have most of a possible book. This surprises me because when I look back, I see all the times I’ve come away from my work without any sense of accumulation. Yet there’s almost enough for a book this morning. How does this happen? You get up in the night or find time during the day, you write, you wait, you put things aside, wondering if you’ll ever know how to finish them, you listen, you hope.

The world feels dangerous to me these days. Not the world out my window, with its owls, the bright planets passing my house, tree frogs waiting for the right moment to lay their eggs in the old cast-iron bathtub I made into a pond for them, even the coyotes passing close enough to smell. But the violence, the ugly rhetoric, the strongmen muscling their way to power on every continent: some days it’s hard to imagine a way for us to simply live our lives, and help others to do the same, with tolerance and peace.

Today, more gardening, more writing. More poetry. A little Janáček, “here is the narrow path, as winds through the vineyards,” and the sound of tree frogs if I listen, the sound of possibilities.

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