by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
While Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer for Americans, the actual start of the season here in the Northern Hemisphere is the Summer Solstice. The Solstice this year began at 6:07 AM, U.S. East Coast time, yesterday.
This beginning, the longest day of the year, is also the brink of Earth’s long tilt back toward Winter north of the equator, which starts today — a reminder that the days of sun and roses are fleeting.
Finding poems about June and the Summer Solstice isn’t hard, but finding good ones is not easy. June rhymes with too many things, and there’s a trainload of June-Moon-Spoon-Tune stuff out there. And most of the poems, whether about the month or the day, tend to be pretty and flowery, but all too easily forgotten.
I like Garrison Keillor’s criteria: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”
These first two poems focus on a different aspect of summer — insects. In this Mary Oliver poem, it’s a grasshopper, along with her thoughts about Life, the Universe and Everything:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Lynda Hull remembers Florida’s mosquitoes and cicadas, the unraveling of love, and her mixed memories of her parents.
Insect Life of Florida
In those days I thought their endless thrum
was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.
In the throats of hibiscus and oleander
I’d see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
enameled hard as the sky before the rain.
All that summer, my second, from city
to city my young father drove the black coupe
through humid mornings I’d wake to like fever
parceled between luggage and sample goods.
Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew
something of love was cruel, was distant.
Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
Father’d pinned in her hair shriveled
to a purple fist. A necklace of shells
coiled her throat, moving a little as she
murmured of alligators that float the rivers
able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes
whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
And always the trance of blacktop shimmering
through swamps with names like incantations—
Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
and pointed to an egret’s flight unfolding
white above swamp reeds that sang with insects
until I was lost, until I was part
of the singing, their thousand wings gauze
on my body, tattooing my skin.
Father rocked me later by the water,
the motel balcony, singing calypso
with the Jamaican radio. The lyrics
a net over the sea, its lesson
of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed
over his shoes, over the rail
where the citronella burned merging our
shadows — Father’s face floating over mine
in the black changing sound
of night, the enormous Florida night,
metallic with cicadas, musical
and dangerous as the human heart.