Some time after midnight, the night of a scorching day. The air feels heavy and moist against my skin. It smells of ozone, of pale rye fields and fields of golden wheat, of grass and moon and of electricity. I read of JJ Cale’s death today and I’m listening to his music on my headphones out there in the dark, in the garden, with the moon rising white and silent between the firs. Its light casts my shadow on the garden wall, a black ghost woman in a swirling, twirling dress, arms above her head, hips moving in a rhythm as old as time, as fresh as each breath of air.
She dips and sways, she rocks and jumps. She’s going crazy in a frenzy of summer, seduction and sadness. I want to be her, even as I realize that I am. Her stark profile as she dances in the moonlight to music only she can hear stays with me as I return to the safety of the sleeping house.
What is the difference between the light of summer and that of autumn?
There is a difference, I can see it. Where summer is bold, autumn is hazy. Where summer glares, autumn mellows. And where the light of summer picks out silhouettes in blinding brightness, boldly slashing pictures in light and dark, autumn’s light drips gentle gold, letting it sink into the colours and bringing forth the details between the contours.
Maybe the difference is that of extremes crumbled, of experience gained, of subtlety discovered.
In our latitude, the four seasons supposedly all take roughly the same time, about three months, give or take a few weeks. Then why is it that summer always seems so very much shorter than any of the other three?
I long for summer every time and then I blink and it’s June, I blink again and July’s gone and suddenly it’s August and the air smells of harvested wheat and apples falling from the trees and there’s this familiar, tangy, not-quite-summery scent in the air.
Even though the sun is still hot and bright, the light has become just a hint more mellow – not as fierce as it was just two weeks ago. Even though everything is still green and there are summer flowers everywhere, the green is just a hint tired, and the golden browns are starting to slowly, slowly take over from the greens. And even though my daydreams are filled with summer pictures, the memories of picking up wild apples on Sunday walks, flying kites on stubbly fields and eating my grandma’s plum cake with plums picked off the tree the same day, are starting to infiltrate my summer dream.
Can it be that autumn is really that close already? Where did my glorious, the-smell-of-rain-on-a-dusty-road, eating-lemon-ice-cream-in-the-park, jumping-through-the-spray-of-the-garden-sprinkler, napping-through-a-heatwave, sitting-around-the-fire-until-midnight summer go?!?
After scorching temperatures and then a spell of spring-like weather, the first of August was beautiful. Twenty-five degrees or a little above, sunny with a few fluffy clouds to make the sky look pretty, and after everyone being very industrious all the morning, the family sort of informally congregated on the terrace in the afternoon, lying about in bikinis or rolled up T-shirts and reading books. It was very relaxed.
In the evening, we had a little BBQ, just the family (all of us except my brother, which is still six people, five of which are women… poor Dad!) and some steaks and sausages and three bottles of dry red wine. We ended up exchanging family histories. ‘Do you remember when…?’ Most of the time, I don’t remember, which leads me to conclude that I have a very bad memory. Or maybe to put it more positively: a not very organized and highly individual memory, because I remember a lot of things, I just can’t place them in any context that makes sense.
There’s the memory of me and my brother and my middle sister sitting in a dark green tent with our Dad while outside there’s a huge summer thunderstorm and we’re not allowed to touch any of the canvas because the water’ll seep in otherwise. Which apparently happened on a totally different vacation than the one I thought it happened on. Then there’s the bike tour that I remember was during an incredible heat spell and I remember my middle sister refusing to go on because she was so tired and it was so hot, and I remember that we all tried to divert her mind because there was no choice – we had to make it to the next hostel on our bikes and that hostel was another twenty or thirty kilometers away. She can’t remember that, however.
Then there’s the things I’ve forgotten: how I diverted my two youngest sisters’ minds from the exertions of biking uphill in the pine-forest midday heat by telling them a story. How I told my youngest sister a story to make her go on after she’d inadvertently sat down in a bunch of nettles by telling her another story. She says that every time I didn’t know how to go on, I’d say that I’d continue at the next crossroad. And my middle sister reminded me that I told her a story once that she liked so much that we tried to record it on cassette, but after a lot of experimenting with water, we gave up because we couldn’t get the sound effects rights. (It involved a kind of monster that was made entirely of water, in case you’re wondering.)
So apart from spending a really nice evening talking and telling stories of our shared past, and sitting outside – next to the fire – until almost midnight, which is one of my favourite things about summer, and admiring a beautiful full moon, I also realized that maybe I started this whole thing with inventing people, inventing worlds, inventing stories that happened in these worlds, … so much earlier than I thought. That’s a nice thought. Although I didn’t write them down, it appears that my younger siblings have fond memories of me telling them stories and that these stories were good enough to keep them amused even when they were bored, exhausted or ill. I find that a very encouraging thought.
So have you had a good start into August? And when was the last time you sat around swapping memories with your family?
shimmering into sight
from the dusty mauve
from the grey-blue emptiness
from the velvet vastness
through the lingering heat and the songs of the crickets
single spark in the fading daylight
guiding my thoughts towards my dreams
Part of my morning routine is to open my feedreader and ignore all the multitude of updated feeds and go straight for one special one. Then I’ll lean back, sip my tea or coffee and read. That one feed is the feed linking the ‘Poem of the Day’ of the Poetry Foundation, that delivers a new and fresh poem to me every day.
It’s a revelation every day. Some days, I might not connect with the poem. Other days, I just don’t like it. Most days, however, it’ll give me something. A smile. An insight. A thought. A feeling. On the best days, a surprised gasp, a disbelieving re-reading with a growing warmth rising up from my stomach to my chest to my head, where it will pop like bubbles into untamed joy and wonder. Those days are special.
I’ll save that poem and probably write about it or talk about it or share it with friends. Those that are into oetry and those that aren’t. I don’t pay any attention to that – the latter category will just have to give it a try. That poem will colour my day, set the tone for it, provide atmosphere. I save them, and when I read them again, I can recall that first joy, like remembering that first butterfly in your stomach when you realize you are falling in love with the person you’re looking at.
Because they are special (to me), I want to share some of these poems. Or rather, since they aren’t mine to share, I want to share my feelings about them and maybe give others the chance to feel something similar. Or something different. Each according to their tastes. So I’ve decided to start a mini-series. I’m not a fan of weekly schedules and I don’t want it to feel forced, to me or to others, so I’m not going to write a weekly installment, but rather whenever it feels right to do so. I’m still thinking of a clever title for that venture and so far I haven’t got it. (Titles are my great stumbling blocks, I hate having to think them up. I’m open for suggestions.)
The first one I want to share is one that has come back to me the last couple of days. I first read it some months ago, three, four, something like that. I’ve thought of it in the meantime, but for two or three days it’s been very present in my mind. It’s set in spring and written from a guy’s perspective. I don’t know why it speaks to me so much right now, in the middle of summer. I’m guessing that it might be something to do with my itching feet and the fact that I want to travel and see new places, meet new people, have fresh winds blowing in my face. Or maybe it’s just he fact that it’s a great poem. Judge for yourselves. Here goes:
……..A Color of the Sky by Tony Hoagland via The Poetry Foundation
…….. Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
…….. driving over the hills from work.
…….. There are the dark parts on the road
…….. when you pass through clumps of wood
…….. and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
…….. but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
……… I should call Marie and apologize
…….. for being so boring at dinner last night,
…….. but can I really promise not to be that way again?
…….. And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
…….. in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
……… Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
…….. the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
…….. are full of infant chlorophyll,
…….. the very tint of inexperience.
…….. Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
…….. and on the highway overpass,
…….. the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
…….. MEMORY LOVES TIME
…….. in big black spraypaint letters,
…….. which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
…….. Last night I dreamed of X again.
…….. She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
…….. Years ago she penetrated me
…….. but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
…….. I never got her out,
…….. but now I’m glad.
…….. What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
…….. What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
…….. What I thought was an injustice
…….. turned out to be a color of the sky.
…….. Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
…….. and the police station,
…….. a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
…….. overflowing with blossomfoam,
…….. like a sudsy mug of beer;
…….. like a bride ripping off her clothes,
…….. dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
…….. so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
…….. It’s been doing that all week:
……. making beauty,
…….. and throwing it away,
…….. and making more.
I love every line of this. Every single line. In the following, I’ll just jot down a few notes on what this makes me feel and think. (I give you leave to not be interested in that, so you don’t need to feel bad if you stop reading at this point. The important thing is the poem itself.)
It starts right off with the picture of driving on a road through woods, with glimpses of the ocean, and straight away I want to be off, driving down that road. I think I have driven down that road, and if I haven’t, I will. I also like that kind of wry humour, when he says ‘but that doesn’t make the road an allegory’.
I love the honesty. He should follow the social conventions, but, whatever… can’t be bothered, will only do it again anyway, so what’s the use… And anyway, the tossing trees are much more interesting. (I agree, by the way)
Is it possible to top that part about ‘the only metaphysical vandal in America’? I don’t think so. It’s a funny, intelligent, throw-away remark, as is the line underneath: ‘which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back’. It makes me smile and nod in recognition. It’s the kind of half-silly, half-deep thing you’ll think when your thoughts are drifting and maybe you’re a little tired, but at peace with yourself.
And there, buried in the middle of it, as if to hide it, is that lyrical, wonderful, suggestive stanza, that sounds as if it’s straight out of a beautiful pop song: ‘What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle. What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel. What I thought was an injustice turned out to be a color of the sky.’ Can’t you just hear that being sung? I definitely can.
The end, everything onward from ‘Outside the youth center …’ is perfect. I cannot even pick out one line or one part that I want to highlight especially, because I feel that once you’ve read it, there is nothing left to say. The dogwood tree, that is ‘loosing its mind’ – can’t you just see that? Coupled with the tossing trees in sexual arousal and the spring wind from the beginning, it makes such a painfully vivid picture.
I could write so much more about it, and actually, the more I write, the more I have to say, but this is already very long, and anyway, I’m sure you’re much more interested in using your own imagination and go and explore the pictures this poem has conjured up for you. I hope you have fun.
It’s hot. Somewhere above 30°C. Which is hot, especially when considering the fact that it was still necessary to wear socks a few days ago. I’m sitting at the dining room table, with a view out into the garden. At the point of writing this, I still have to write 8351 words to get to the finish line of 50,000 by midnight. I think I can do it. I didn’t think so yesterday morning, but I behaved very well all day yesterday and wrote a lot, despite the fact that it was meltingly hot and humid. Have a look at the stats page. This is a screenshot I did at 23.55 last night:
It’s now 1.40 pm, I have more than eight thousands words to go, I’m listening to a collection of songs from the South Pacific (this one here – it’s wonderful!), and I have the choice between being unbelievably hot (= terrace doors open) or suffocating due to lack of oxygen (= terrace doors closed). So far, I choose to live. If I cannot make the deadline, I might change my mind.
Well, okay, not really. And anyway, by midnight it will be cooler. Hopefully. At least it will if this happens again:
That was two days ago. The lightning was impressive, but although it is my dearest ambition to capture one of those amazing, borderline-kitsch photos of a huge bolt of lighting, I haven’t yet managed to be fast enough.
… where was I? Ah, yes – procrastination. As you now have proof before you, I’m a master. My official title is ‘Queen Procrastinatrix of the Universe’. For you, ‘Majesty’ will be fine. Although I think I will insist on my minions fanning me with huge palm leaves. And regularly bringing ice water for me to put my feet in. Any volunteers?
(… my brain is cooking… where’s the iced tea?…)
… oh no, quick, I gotta go. My youngest sister is back from shopping for our BBQ party tomorrow and she bullies me something awful when she sees me busy at my true calling of putting things off. For some reason, she insists I be productive and finish this story on time.
Any cooling-down-and-staying-on-track tips out there? I’m also open on tips of how to stay sane. But maybe you can tell that for yourselves already.
I sit on the terrace. It’s been sweltering and humid all day. I’ve kept the doors and windows closed so it would stay nice and cool inside the house.
Now the sun has disappeared behind the hill, although the sky is still high and blue and hazy clouded. It’s cooled down some after a five-minute-summer-rain. My skin feels sticky.
I drink endless glasses of water. I feel restless. I wish the flies would let me be.
Snatches of poetry run through my head. Words that adequately describe the feelings of sitting on the terrace on the evening of a hot summer’s day, watching the swallows dip and weave, listening to the blackbirds singing, feeling flies settling on my sweaty skin and wishing for something to happen. I cannot remember the poems, nor the poets, only flashes of their work.
The red-pink roses look good against the clouds gathering on the horizon. The goldfish in the pond move lazily just below the surface. There is no wind down here, although the clouds are moving closer fast enough.
I love this place, and yet I’m restless. Will I ever be satisfied with what I’ve got?
I hope the swallows will be able to stuff themselves tonight. I like swallows. I don’t like flies.
A plane cuts its way through the sky, sunlight glittering on its silver skin. It hums along in eager pursuit of a different place to be. The swallows stay put, close to their nests, even though they zip through the sky on their fast wings. The goldfish don’t zip. They just drift.
The edges of the clouds are white, tinged with a rose-golden hue. I hope the swallows and the planes appreciate how pretty they are.
Roses – who can refuse them? I love all flowers (and taking photos of them), but this post is about roses. Because there is something quintessentially beautiful about them. Even their shape is beautiful.
And the way they seem to have more petals than is possible – there are just layers and layers and layers of velvety petals.
That smell… When they open up and you put your face close to them, there is that sweet, wild smell of hot summer and beauty, of longing and soft touches, of humidity and adventure.
And they grow in such an abundance. Reckless numbers of budding roses climb all over each other, each growing more beautiful than the other.
What do you call a group of roses? A bunch? A pride? A cluster? A flock of roses?
Whatever the correct term is, it’s an honour and a joy to have them growing like this in the garden.
I’m sitting in the reading nook at the back of the garden, on a comfortable chair, my laptop on a small table in front of me, feet propped up on a stool, right below an orange cloth that is fashioned tent-like above the wrought-iron structure that shades this corner. The Moroccan lamp dangles down from the highest point and isn’t lit because it’s bright afternoon.
Outside my shady tent my youngest sister lies on the soft green grass of the garden, reading a book and tanning in her bikini, while dragonflies zip through the air around her. Birds chirp and sing and sometimes the far-away humming sound of a plane can be heard, as it cuts its way across the pale blue sky and the wisps of clouds up there. Playful gusts of wind tease the branches of the roses that have climbed over the arched garden gate and flutter my tented roof.
On the terrace, separated from the grassy garden by a stone bridge over an artificial little brook that runs around two sides of the garden, with little ponds in between, is the terrace, where my father naps in the sun, and my mother reads on a reclining chair in the shade. The dog moves from shade to sun, from sun to shade, and cannot decide if one is too hot or the other too cool. Whenever one of the big black flies, or bumblebees, or dragonflies or bees come too close to him, he jumps up and snaps at them, trying to catch them, but he never succeeds.
All around, trees are softly waving their branches, blue and purple and yellow and white and pink and red flowers are nodding their heads in the breeze, and on the pond, pink and white waterlilies have opened their petals and float serenely on the glittering surface.
It is a long weekend in early summer, and I’m so very happy to be where I am.
because it’s a balmy, velvety, starshining night outside and I’m remembering last year’s camping trip to the Balkans with longing, here is a poem I wrote on that trip, pretty much exactly a year ago…
………………..The Evening Cathedral
……………….. Particles of dust and peace
……………….. are floating in the shafts of light
……………….. that boldly enter between
……………….. the high domes of the pine trees.
……………….. Birds are singing hymns
……………….. while angels drift golden and red
……………….. across the serene sky,
……………….. disguised as wisps of cloud.
……………….. And when dusk arrives
……………….. in its dark robe, carrying the evening star,
……………….. men and birds and rocks hold their breath,
……………….. overwhelmed by the immense stillness
……………….. as the world stops spinning for one heartbeat –
……………….. and then goes on with the business of nightfall.
As a dry spring slowly blends into a surprisingly humid summer, my playlists begin to change. It happens so imperceptibly that I almost don’t notice. One by one, songs that I have been addicted to for weeks and months drop off the radar and others, that only a short while before I was uninterested in, emerge from the ocean of music.
To be explicit – the more introspective songs of the folk/inde-folk/[whatever-you-wanna-call-it] persuasion fade out a bit and songs that sound more robust and usually hail from the box labelled ‘pop’ enter. With rising temperatures, I’m sure that reggae and ska will make their way back onto my playlists as well.
This is not a conscious choice. Well, not quite true. Obviously I do choose what music to listen to. But it’s unconscious in the way that, come summer, I’m just more drawn towards music that has faster rhythms, that is more sensual, and usually has to be played much louder. It is music that reminds me more of my body – I can feel the beats, I can dance to it.
This is not to say that I’m not still madly in love with introspective, intelligent songs, or that I don’t enjoy them, in summer. Nor do I mean to say that they only ‘fit’ autumn, winter, spring… And I really don’t think that reggae can only be appreciated in summer.
What I do mean to say is that I think my musical preferences adjust to my (cliché?) ideas of the season I’m in. I also mean to say that I’m looking forward to summer and to bold, unapologetically loud, joyful, rhythm-driven, shout-along sounds.
Do you think music is seasonal? Or is your music taste? Or am I the only one who experiences this seasonal shift in preferences?
Yesterday started cloudy and cool. It went on to become cloudy and murky. It ended in sticky air and a a few raindrops. We rushed to take in everything from the garden that had made its way out over the course of the day – dog toys, cushions, sun shades, abandoned socks and shoes. After ten minutes of light rain, it stopped. I almost screamed in frustration, because the rain had only added to the damp hot air and not brought any relief at all. Half an hour later, as I was hunched over my computer, I literally jumped when a huge lightning bolt lit up the sky right above the town and the thunder that followed was less of a rumble and more of a roar. Through the window I could see lightning after lightning and the thunder turned into almost a continuous sound and then – finally! – it rained. I rushed out of my room to open the door to the little yard that is right in front of my window, and just stood there in the dark, with the cool, sweet air on my skin and the rain streaming down from the dark sky, with the thunder growing fainter with each clap. And oh! that unmistakable smell of rain on a summer day! I have longed for it all year, although until that moment when I opened the door, I hadn’t known.