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Next, Please

October 18, 2011

Dawn has broken in Ohio, revealing fall colors faded from last week; the red in the photo from my front door, looking left, is gone; the pale yellows predominate that way now. But now there’s more color looking right. 

We had a tour of fall in the Midwest over the weekend, driving north towards Chicago, where the leaves were mostly green and brown–at least along the highways–and then to Iowa, where the fields were yellow and brown. I wrote a haiku as we drove into the sunset:

Autumn prairie dusk:
Ashy grasses ruffled by
Wind with room to roam.

The next day we drove to southern Missouri, where it was still late summer and the trees were only beginning to turn. All of our plans came to fruition. We had our dinner at Celebrations, and everybody was feeling well enough to enjoy it. The airline and driving plans and even the motel reservations worked out, and we got home to find a gift from our impromptu houseguests who came and went while we were gone, and all our cats were in, waiting for us.

I am getting better at living in the moment, as one sometimes can when faced with an ending. This makes me a little less impatient with driving and riding in the car all day. One day we had lunch at the Country Kitchen in Hannibal, Missouri and then I took a wrong turn and we crossed the Mississippi, so I finally got to see the part of the river where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn could swim, an activity that confounded my childish imagination, raised as I was on the Cape of a bigger, deeper river with killer currents.

Who else could I turn to, to find an expression of what it’s like to try to live in this autumn, not looking ahead, but Philip Larkin?

Next, Please

Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear,
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste
Refusing to make haste!

Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,

Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors, it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last

We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

And here I am. It’s morning in Ohio and soon my daughter will wake up and come out to see me. There’s nobody with golden tits approaching, but golden leaves are falling across the driveway.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2011 9:45 am

    A peaceful, contemplative post…just what I need after completing a fraught family visit (what a friend refers to as an “obli-cation.”). I like your haiku, and I like the music of the Larkin poem, with its sudden, pull-you-up-short halts. That’s life.

    • October 18, 2011 10:51 am

      I like the halts, too. And the word “obli-cation”!

  2. October 18, 2011 9:58 am

    Like the Larkin – thanks.

    • October 18, 2011 10:51 am

      Glad you enjoy it. You can always depend on me to pull out the Larkin.

  3. October 18, 2011 9:58 am

    Okay, “huge and birdless silence” made me feel a little sick inside, I have to say.

    • October 18, 2011 10:50 am

      Yes, it makes me feel a little sick, too. So I’m trying to look at things up close.

  4. October 18, 2011 10:11 am

    Wonderful haiku and the poem was very appropriate. Unfortunately, due to the drought, many trees have already turned brown here, but it made me realize that I should look to enjoy what is out there this weekend even though it is still summer here as well. The Larking poem was very helpful today.

    • October 18, 2011 10:52 am

      Being able to travel makes you realize how pretty it is where you live, even if you’ve never much liked the place you live.

  5. October 18, 2011 10:20 am

    I love “wretched stalks of disappointment.” That was me in July when the storm killed the corn. Sigh. Yesterday, as I pulled up everything and prepared for winter, I felt, strangely, just the opposite.

    • October 18, 2011 10:55 am

      Sometimes autumn is about putting expectations away. You think you’re not going to be disappointed, that there will be no more “wretched stalks.”
      I’d like to think that winter and I will be ships that pass in the night. I’m afraid it’s going to pass as slowly as some of the old ladies on I-70 yesterday, though.

  6. October 18, 2011 11:02 am


    Always too eager for the future, we
    Pick up bad habits of expectancy.

    Is me.

    See how much you are getting me to read poetry?? Too bad I don’t pay better, huh.

  7. October 18, 2011 1:29 pm

    Oh, the imaginary internet money is rolling in! And it is deeply satisfying to me when I get people who don’t ordinarily read poetry to like a line or two here and there.

  8. October 18, 2011 2:00 pm

    Yes, I like this poem a lot. Also, leave-wise, we were too early for the Maine colors, and too late, I think, for the peak of the Ohio colors, although there was still a lot to look at. M had drawing assignments which led us to look at fields and bare trees and trees still fluttering with yellow leaves and there’s a gingko near her dorm that looks like it’s about to be magnificent. Now I am here and it’s warm with no leaves to speak of. You are right about the personal nature of how October is supposed to feel. To me the Ohio feeling is the right one, and I will never become accustomed to anything different. There were sugar maples here and there doing their luminescent thing, too. I really do love trees.

    • October 19, 2011 8:17 am

      Parents’ Weekend at Kenyon is timed to take advantage of the autumn colors, and they almost always deliver. I think you were here for one of the peaks–there’s never only one; it’s like waiting for the cherry blossoms to be at their peak of beauty. Some are always still budding while others are dying and thinking you’ve found the right balance is always a story you’re telling yourself.

  9. October 18, 2011 2:10 pm

    there — the sugar maples were there, not here. (We have no sugar maples here. Nevermind.) But I am also glad all your plans worked out! Phew.

    • October 19, 2011 8:18 am

      I am very happy that the aging minivan had that trip left in her. I hope she has a couple more.

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