Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer in Ohio

It's been wonderful weather here--in the 90's, with a breeze. My northern children are not used to it. I'm not used to it anymore, having just gotten accustomed to having to wear three-quarter sleeves and jeans on Memorial Day weekend every year. I've lived in Ohio now for 18 years, and it took me an entire decade to start finding things to like. Stanley Plumly, who was born in another part of the state, told me when I first moved here that I would find lots to like. Well, Stan, you were right. Finally.

In fact, Stan was right about pretty much everything he ever told me because most of it was about poetry. He's a poet worth rereading. I thought that at this point in the summer, with all its potential still unsullied, I should look again at the title poem of his volume Summer Celestial:

At dusk I row out to what looks like light or anonymity,
too far from land to be called to, too close to be lost,
and drag oar until I can drift in and out of a circle,
the center of a circle, nothing named, nothing now to see,
the wind up a little and down, building against the air,
and listen to anything at all, bird or wind, or nothing
but the first sounds on the surface, clarifying, clear.

Once, in Canada, I saw a man stand up in his boat and pass
out dollar bills. It was summer dark. They blew down
on the lake like moonlight. Coming out of his hands
they looked like dollar bills. When I look up at the Dippers,
the whole star chart, leaves on a tree, sometimes all night,
I think about his balance over cold water, under stars,
standing in a shoe, the nets all down and gathering.

My mother still wakes crying do I think she's made of money.
--And what makes money make money make money?
I wish I could tell her how to talk herself to sleep.
I wish. She says she's afraid she won't make it back.
As in a prayer, she is more afraid of loneliness than death.
Two pennies for the eyes, two cents: I wish I could tell her
that each day the stars reorganize, each night they come back

Outside tonight the waters run to color with the sky.
In the old water dream you wake up in a boat, drifting out.
Everything is cold and smells of rain. Somewhere back there,
in sleep, you remember weeping. And at this moment you
you are about to speak. But someone is holding on, hand
over hand, and someone with your voice opening and closing.
In water you think it will always be your face that floats

to the surface. Flesh is on fire under water. The nets go back
to gather and regather, and bring up stones, viridian and silver,
what falls. In the story, the three Dutch fishermen sail out
for stars, into the daylight hours, so loaded with their catch
it spills. They sleep, believe it, where they can, and dry
their nets on a full moon. For my mother, who is afraid to
for anyone afraid of heights or water, all of this is intolerable.

Look, said the wish, into your lover's face. Mine over yours.
In that other life, which I now commend to you, I have spent
the days by a house along the shore, building a boat, tying
the nets together, watching the lights go on and off on the
But nothing gets done, none of it ever gets finished. So I lie
in a dream of money being passed from hand to hand in a long
It looks like money--or hands taking hands, being led out

to deeper water. I wake up weeping, and it is almost joy.
I go outside and the sky is sea-blue, the way the earth is looked
from the moon. And out on the great surfaces, water is paying
back water. I know, I know this is a day and the stars reiterate,
return each loss, each witness. And that always in the room
next door
someone is coughing all night or a man and a woman make love,
each body buoyed, even blessed, by what the other cannot

Isn't that remarkable--to look at a place like this, with its rusted barrels of impatience (oh, I mean impatiens) in the front yards, and see how the loveliness and the optimism--I mean, these are annuals in a place with barely a 3-month season--grow right out of the rust? On a sunny summer morning, when people in Indiana and Iowa are cleaning up after tornadoes and floods and everyone in the country is having at least an occasional sleepless night thinking about money and other things they can't have, reading this poem is like coming up from sleep into the kind of dream that buoys you into waking and leaves you in that state of potential from which you can accept any direction you end up heading.

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