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A Color of the Sky

March 30, 2021

It’s hard not to have some kind of hope in spring.

Last week we celebrated a second pandemic birthday for my son; we had a tea and poetry reading over Zoom and I read a poem by Tony Hoagland, “A Color of the Sky.” Partly I read it because the title reminded me of a song from Pippin that my son used to sing all the time for the few months when he was a tenor.

Partly I read it because I love the image of a brick wall turning out to be a tunnel.

Last year at this time I didn’t even know about Zoom. We certainly didn’t use it for birthdays or game nights, which have turned out to be the thing I look forward to most, these days.

Well, we all turn into our mothers eventually. Between sharing her love of games and love of pretty shoes while forced to wear orthopedics she is often on my mind lately.

Partly I read “A Color of the Sky” because I love the final thought, about making so much beauty there’s enough to throw away.

A Color of the Sky

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
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.

The final line gets me, not about just the beauty of spring but about the possibility of more. It seemed like my life had stopped for the last year, but what if it goes on? What if I “want my life to be something more than long,” as Pippin sings?

A single snapdragon survived the Ohio winter and is blooming in a corner of my garden. I keep thinking I should walk over there and look at it closer, but the wooden step has warped and my feet and ankles are so swollen that when I look at them I see my mother’s, and I haven’t walked that far all winter. Maybe today.

Maybe next week I’ll walk to symphony rehearsal and then to the rehab facility with the pool.

Maybe by July I’ll be able to walk from the house we’ve rented to the beach and back again.

What do you mean to do that you haven’t done for a while?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2021 2:28 pm

    “a little dogwood tree is losing its mind” oh this made me laugh! Wonderful poem, thank you for sharing it! Spring does seem reckless in her profusion, but she and we do like to celebrate the returning sun and warmth. I hope you are able to see the snapdragon up close and walk from the house to the beach and back again. As soon as it is a little warmer, May most likely, I am looking forward to a long bike ride outside the city. I have not done that since the summer before the pandemic since last summer all the public bathrooms were closed in the parks I bike near and I am not inclined to hide in the bushes on the side of the road when nature calls.

    • March 31, 2021 11:12 am

      Spring flowers and plants are sometime reckless. This year has been a good one for narcissus–sometimes they get frozen after opening, but this year they opened early and have stayed unfrozen so far.
      I did get out to see the snapdragon up close. It’s pink; I took a photo of it–the last one in this post.
      Yes, the availability and safety of public restrooms during the pandemic has kept me from going very far from home, too. I read an article about how we should make public restrooms more available, since in this country we’ve relied on restaurants and certain stores (Barnes and Noble) to provide them. Certainly when we were on the road last summer I mapped out rest areas, rather than just stopping at any town with a fast food restaurant/gas station.

  2. March 30, 2021 7:21 pm

    I love “but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.” Sometimes life is beautiful for its own sake, not because it’s symbolic of something “metaphysical.”

    As for the wall/tunnel image, the nerd in me immediately thinks of the scene in Labyrinth where Jennifer Connolly realizes the solid wall in front of her is an illusion; it’s actually full of openings.

    • March 31, 2021 11:15 am

      I love the way this poem flips back and forth between the symbolic and the literal, like with what’s written on the overpass. Hoagland is one of my favorite poets because he uses humor so deftly and gives us images that do make us think of other images.

  3. March 31, 2021 7:42 am

    This is so stupid but I want to go to Tuesday Morning. I have other, more ambitious wants, but also: Damn, I really want to go to Tuesday Morning and look at all the items.

    “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?”

    That is a reeeeeeeeal quarantine mood, my friend.

    • March 31, 2021 11:19 am

      I had to look up Tuesday Morning, because I live in an area that doesn’t have many stores; mostly Kroger, Wal-Mart, and some kind of farm supply store that changes names every few years. It does sound like the kind of place you’d miss in an “ordinary Wednesday afternoon” kind of way (to quote Walker Percy).
      I’m delighted by your response to the line about being boring and can I really promise not to be that way again–although I love the lines about spring, those lines are the heart of the poem for me right now. Maybe it’s the fear that amid renewal, we won’t be renewed to what we used to be, or should be.

  4. March 31, 2021 2:12 pm

    We’ve booked a beach trip for September and I can hardly wait. It will have been two years by then since we’ve been anywhere. Like literally anywhere outside our area. I am so, so, so ready. I hope you get to walk to the beach this summer!

    • March 31, 2021 2:31 pm

      Where do you go to the beach? We are going to a barrier island near Charleston, SC. I think I’ll be ready.

      • April 1, 2021 8:16 am

        We go to Folly Beach SC, near Charleston. Very laid back vibes.

        • April 1, 2021 8:55 am

          Oh yes; you’ve talked about going there before! We always go to Isle of Palms but have driven through some of Folly Beach and thought it looked like fun (we were boarding a boat there).

  5. April 5, 2021 9:04 am

    This is one of my favorite poems by Hoagland! I love this line: “so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.” It is quietly obscene when you think about all the beauty the blooms in spring but doesn’t last that long. It’s such a great poem.

    Thanks for sharing it. You’re lucky not to have known about Zoom before. I use it for work, and it has always exhausted me. I do like using it to attend readings I otherwise wouldn’t because travel is too far. I’ve seen some of my favorite poets and writers in the last year without having to worry about expenses or even traveling so far.

    • April 5, 2021 9:42 am

      This is my second favorite poem by Hoagland (the first favorite is Reasons to Survive November).
      The Zoom poetry readings and plays have been interesting and it has been nice to see some people and productions I might not have traveled to see. There’s something I miss about investing the time and energy to be in a certain place for a specific event, though.

      • April 7, 2021 6:47 am

        There are some venues I miss going to for readings. It’s the energy of the place, but I do love seeing writer friends I haven’t seen in years because of distance.

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