Glory Day

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.

“Glory Day”

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.


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4 Responses to “Glory Day”

  1. Daylily Says:

    Thanks for adding to the celebration of the Fourth, the glorious Fourth, with your word pictures! And thanks for the reminder of the endless summers of childhood. **Sigh** It’s good to go back there, just for a couple of moments.

  2. I used to pet Chewbacca Says:

    Fred has a gift, and Daylily has wonderfully nailed it: word pictures. My old DM long ago mastered the art of teleporting himself to a mystical, wonderful universe and of taking others with him, but only as observers.
    I have considered Fred a dear, dear friend for over 35 years. Many of the scenes he discusses are ones I, and Baron as well, can picture in our own minds. I can smell the smell he smells, see the shells exploding with the ADM grain elevators in the backdrop, can step into the banner of his blog and stroll over to what was once the Tolles household.
    His genius, for which we are all obvioulsy grateful, is evident, and is clearly what has drawn us all here.

    My dear Fred, “Glory Day” is a wonderful poem. Thank you for sharing it. But if you don’t mind, I will hang on to “A White Bird Rising” as my favorite of yours. I know you’ll understand.

  3. Eunice Says:

    My childhood summers were so different from yours, but no less magical. How do you do it, Fred? How do you paint a sketch of what was magic for you in such a way that it resonates with my very different memories? Well, however you manage, thanks! Here’s to the glory, the freedom, the intense dreams, the endless promise!

  4. Recharge Says:

    Ah, yes — brings back memories of the great composer Mark Rittman. I remember you singing this piece at his recital.

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