A Hint of Autumn, Tea Olive Edition

tea olive

To my mind, one of the most delicious odors encountered in the Lowcountry is tea olive, which blooms both in the spring and autumn. Whenever I run across its fragrance, though, I turn melancholy. Even as a child before all this dying started, I’d associate tea olive – my Mama called it sweet olive – with ephemera, maybe because the smell of tea olive is fleeting, unlike, say, a gardenia, which you can practically huff and get high on.

It’s that time of year, the light a little richer, a bit more golden, “the maturing sun” Keats calls it in that amazing poem of his, where “barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day.”

Well, today there is at last a hint of autumn in the air. It seems as if in these latter days of the empire, summer has encroached upon both spring and autumn, swiping a bit from both, and, of course, down here on the coast we don’t get any of the brilliant colors we associate with fall, no bright yellow or orange or red leaves strewing the brooks. Come to think of it, speaking strictly, I don’t know if we have brooks down here. At least I’m pretty sure I’ve never run across a “babbling brook.”

Speaking of babbling, I ain’t got nothing to say except, “Hello, autumn. How about hanging out for at least a couple of days?

That and to lay a little Keats on you:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

 

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Judy Birdsong in Autumn

Written the Day after I Promised Someone She’d Never Catch Me Whining

the poet wearing shades indoors

 

The doomed young envy the old, the doomed old the dead young

                                   John Berryman “Dream Song 190”

 

The wind, is moaning like John Berryman on a bad day,

and my sunglasses have sneaked away somewhere.

There’s no sun to block, but they would be handy

to hide my eyes at the Piggly Wiggly where I’m headed.

 

“Blind men and [racial epithet plurals] are the only ones

who wear dark glasses indoors,” a stranger once said

to hatless redheaded me inside a mall where I be sporting Ray Bans.

 

I’ve upscaled in my prosperous baldheaded old age to Costas,

but the stranger should have added “mourners,”

or better yet, minded his own fucking business that day.

 

John Berryman

 

The Swashbuckling Syphilitic and the Jolly Drill Sergeant

 

blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic looks a little like

a walrus with that mustache of his.

 

The jolly drill sergeant is, of course, clean-shaven,

close-cropped, and he barks his orders like a ramrod ringmaster.

“Step right up and burnish that brass!”

 

The swashbuckling syphilitic and the jolly drill sergeant

don’t see eye-to-eye. “God is dead,” cries the former.

“I must have missed the obituary,” chuckles the latter.

 

“Gaze into the abyss,” intones the syphilitic,

“but don’t lean too far over,” warns the drill sergeant.

 

“Whoever does not have a good father . . . ”

“What’s done is done.”

 

The jolly drill sergeant

Puts his hand on the syphilitic’s shoulder.

 

“Enough of this nonsense.

The Shnapps’s on me.”

 

“Alcohol, like Christianity, intoxicates!”

“Okay, okay, forget it,” says the jolly drill sergeant.

 

And so they go their separate ways,

neither one the wiser.

A Pickpocket of a Poet Rips Off Wallace Stevens

circa 1940: A pickpocket at work in New York. (Photo by William Davis/General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

accompanied by a labored window unit

 

A motion, the sea voice fluttering, a cry

understood word for word, a summer sound,

tilting in the air, perishing, erased by rain.

 

A serenade, a night wind sigh, out of the spirit

of black waves, the virtuoso ocean

drowning out a song.

 

The wind blowing, a metaphysician

in the dark, a woman, drunk,

dancing a stumble on the shore.

 

Dee Dee Ramone, master of the mamba,

tell me in a doo wop how to get from East Erie

to the Commodore Club. All I know

it’s way above of the Crosstown.

Dee Dee Ramone

 

Dom Pérignon and Reefer

 

(Clicking on the above is worth it.)

Roy Cohn, J Edgar Hoover

no doubt no approve of Muddy Waters,

amassed, I reckon, a dossier on his ass

duly noting his non-workin’ mojo,

dat black cat bone,

his association

with John the Conqueroo.

second cousin of the accused.

Accused of what?

Possession of champagne and reefer.

 

The Sky Flashes, the Great Sea Yearns

 

I can remember as a boy lying on a pile of leaves I had raked the day before, bored, staring up at the clouds. For whatever reason, years later, I recalled this incident (if you can call it that) and told my mother, “Some of my best memories are of being bored.” For whatever reason, this nonsense delighted her, and over the decades she would sometimes remind me that I had uttered those syllables, as if they embodied some great truth about the human condition.

Balderdash. Poppycock.

Truth be told, my best memories do not include that time our broken-down train sat motionless for four hours somewhere between Edinburg and Inverness nor those hours spent sitting through seemingly interminable high school productions nor glancing up every three minutes at the slow clock ticking in Mrs. Waltrip’s Algebra class (even if she did occasionally enliven things by pointing at integers on the chalk board with her middle finger).

Of course, there’s a distinction to be made between mere boredom (languishing in a waiting room) and ennui, which might be best embodied by John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 14.”

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

 

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes

as bad as achilles,

 

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind: me, wag.

Ennui is malaise, enduring, beyond the cure of looking up the etymology of “balderdash” (originally a weird mixture of liquids like beer, milk, Nu-Grape soda, etc.) or “poppycock” [which comes from the Dutch pap (soft) and kak (dung), so poppycock = soft-poop].

No for ennui, we need something stronger, maybe a serotonin enhancer, a love affair with Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, something more substantial than watching PW Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece Diary of a Lost Girl (my morning’s entertainment).

The fact is I wasn’t really bored when I was lying in that pile of leaves looking at the clouds. I was using my imagination. I was happy.

 

 

The Elegy Season

For me, this is the elegy season.

When Judy was dying, I distracted myself by doing algebra, solving equations, but now she’s gone, I’ve been reading elegies, reminding my selfish self that losing a loved one is what happens here and all the time, as this link to a Facebook page abundantly demonstrates.

The old famous elegies don’t do it for me, not “Lycidas” nor “Adonais” nor “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” nor even Tennyson’s heartbreaking but morbid “In Memoriam.”

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

The seasons bring the flower again,
And bring the firstling to the flock;
And in the dusk of thee, the clock
Beats out the little lives of men.

O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom:

And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood,
I seem to fail from out my blood
And grow incorporate into thee.

Auden, on the other hand, is closer to my taste, not his hokey “Funeral Blues” elegy quoted in Three Weddings and a Funeral, but this one called “The Cave of Making” for his friend and fellow poet Louis MacNeice:

Seeing you know our mystery
from the inside and therefore
how much, in our lonely dens, we need the companionship
of our good dead, to give us
comfort on dowly days when the self is a nonentity
dumped on a mound of nothing,
to break the spell of our self-enchantment when lip-smacking
imps of mawk and hooey
write with us what they will, you won’t think me imposing if
I ask you to stay at my elbow
until cocktail time: dear Shade, for your elegy
I should have been able to manage
something more like you than this egocentric monologue,
but accept it for friendship’s sake.

But the elegy that has – forgive the phrase – slain me is Donald Hall’s “Without,” which captures so beautifully – an awful word to use here – captures the horrors of dying of blood cancer and the empty feeling for who’s left over.

An excerpt:

vincristine ara-c cytoxan vp-16

loss of memory loss of language losses

pneumocystis carinii pneumonia bactrim

foamless unmitigated sea without sea

delirium whipmarks of petechiae

multiple blisters of herpes zoster

and how are you doing today I am doing

***

one afternoon say the sun came out

moss took on a greenishness leaves fell

the market opened a loaf of bread a sparrow

a bony dog wandered back sniffing a lath

it might be possible to take up a pencil

unwritten stanzas taken up and touched

beautiful terrible sentences unuttered

***

the sea unrelenting wave gray the sea

flotsam without islands broken crates

block after block the same house the mall

no cathedral no hobo jungle the same women

and men they longed to drink hayfields no

without dog or semicolon or village square

without monkey or lily or garlic

You can read the entire poem here.