After the Long, Bitter Season
Each day in April, they are here again,
high on the open slopes, under the pine,
beside the suddenly garrulous streams,
pushing up from last summer’s cemeteries:
the iris, the lupine, the baby blue eyes.
And we are waiting for each new appearance—
each new signal of redemption—
the earth returning to us again
after the long, bitter season.
I want to talk about the Calypso orchids,
here this Wednesday all at once—
two days of the sun’s touch just enough
to coax them out from the cold.
Winged pink petals on leafless stems,
they grow where least expected,
the ground rocky, inhospitable, shrouded
with sparse dead pine shards.
Each year we think to find them
in a kinder context, the new, tender
grasses of a meadow, perhaps, but no,
this is the soil, the shade, the hardship
that sustains them.
I want to sit down on this stony hilltop,
in the middle of this bitter year,
watch how the orchids
launch their pink parachutes out
between one darkness
After the name-tag squinting and the quick refills
of Chablis, after the introductions, the recognitions—
eighteen-year-old faces peering out from behind
time’s compromises in the flesh— after the big-
bosomed hugs, the handshakes, the celebratory
speeches (only the reasonably self-satisfied
attend these things),
I wander out onto the campus quad wondering. . .
looking for why I’d come—the grass, the great
shade trees just as I’d remembered, light lingering
in the evening sky, loamy fragrances of late May
rising from my footsteps—exactly the kind of
insidious Spring here I remember running
away with me each year.
No wonder I find her seated there on the steps
of Boylan Hall between classes—it was always
between classes in May—and the boy sprawled
beside her is the boy she’d been flirting with
the better part of freshman year.
When she looks up from her lap to meet
his gaze, she notices how his hair curls
over the rim of his fisherman’s cap,
and the impulse to reach over and touch
a small strand springing up just above his
left ear is so intense, it prickles in my
fingertips fifty years later.