Those of you who went to school with me will remember this poem, written one July 5th during my college years. I remember it was a July 5th, the day after the 4th of July. I took my chair and paper out to the northeast corner of our yard, where an old raspberry patch had gone back to nature, and a grove of fairly young maples whispered and dreamed together at the edge of the field. Behind me, the north wall of the barn was covered with Virginia creeper, that ubiquitous vine of the Midwest. I think this is probably my favorite of my own poems.
We found the old cat one hot Glory Day
In the steamy weeds, swelled to twice his size;
Green glory thunder echoed in his eyes
As we laid him out where the smell of hay
And green maple shadows would make the flies
Forget him; and watching the heat waves rise
From the wind-mirroring beans we covered him with clay.
There was lightning low in the sky away
Off, and a distant rumbling down the road;
The Virginia creeper whispered to the wagon
It covered like time-snails’ tracks, the old load
Of bricks for building; something like a Dragon
Crawled south in the blur of wheat’s golden sway
When we buried a tomcat on Glory Day.
Hallowe’en may be the most fun, but the summer months are the most numinous. Hope Mirrlees sort of dismissed trees in summer, saying they are silent. For me, there’s nothing like a summer tree: that bright sunlight hammering on the visible surface of the crown — while within, below, there are the darkest and coolest of green and blue shadows.
The cornfields are present in the Deep Summer: those green mazes that come with the hot months and are taken down in the fall. Now, in this season, they stand as the portals to other worlds. If you don’t believe me, watch Field of Dreams. But we knew about it long ago, long before the movie. Farm kids have always known.
The best part of July 4th, of course, was the fireworks. When I was little, we had a ring-side seat: the country club to our west had an extravagant fireworks show, and we could see it all from our front yard. We’d gather in the dusk — family, friends, neighbors, we kids with fireworks of our own (loud, explosive things during the day, beautiful and fiery glowing things saved for the night). The adults sat in lawn chairs and noticed the mosquitoes. We kids wandered barefoot, from the road’s day-long-baked tar, now soft and warm, to the sharp gravel at the verge, to the cool grass of the yard’s edge.
The loud reports of the noise-bombs would roll clear around the Illinois horizon, 360 degrees; we could turn ourselves and follow the sound. The brilliant fire-blossoms unfolded in the sky like benedictions over the dark world.
“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay. “Nobody that matters, that is.”
On Glory Day, we were all alive. The night was warm and full of visible miracles. And the summer stretched on and on ahead, waiting for us, full of promise.