a good summer poem, now that summer is here

Posted by on June 8, 2011


The Humming-birds

by Amy Lowell

Up–up–water shooting,
Jet of water, white and silver,
Tinkling with the morning sun-bells.
Red as sun-blood, whizz of fire,
Shock of fire-spray and water.
it is the humming-birds flying against the stream of the
fountain.
The trumpet-vine bursts into a scatter of humming-
birds,
The scarlet-throated trumpet flowers explode with
humming-birds.
The fountain waits to toss them diamonds.
I clasp my hands over my heart
Which will not let loose its humming-birds,
Which will not break to green and ruby,
Which will not let its wings touch air.
Pound and hammer me with irons,
Crack me so that flame can enter,
Pull me open, loose the thunder
Of wings within me.
Leave me wrecked and consoled
A maker of humming-birds
Who dare bathe in leaping water.

* * *

This week both of my girls had a virus of some sort. It was mild and the accompanying fever only lasted for about one day and one night. I think it came to Esme because she has been spending so much time outside in the kind of heat and sun that her body could in no way be accustomed to after the long, chilly spring we’ve had. So I kept her indoors all day and have been more conscious about just sending her outside to play all day with no limits.

Elsa’s symptoms were less severe, but being smaller, she slept a lot during the day, whereas Esme stayed awake all day but went to bed earlier than usual. So it happened that early in the evening on Monday I had a sleeping Esme, and a dozing Jeff on the futon (because he was also fighting a cold), but at the same time a waking two year-old who had been asleep much of the day, had no fever, seemed refreshed, and would certainly not want to go to bed again for at least a few more hours. I wasn’t sure what to do in our tiny apartment with a wakeful toddler and most of the other rooms with curtains drawn to keep out sun and heat, all dozey with convalescing family members. I did not feel like being inside such an apartment for one minute, wishing angrily that the day were on its normal schedule and that all child rearing duties were behind me, when it wasn’t, and they weren’t. So, I went outside and put Elsa in the baby bike seat, and we took off into the glowing summer evening, toward campus.

In the cooler part of the day, riding my bike to campus among all the wide open grassy spaces and tree-lined walkways, I felt like a lucky person–lucky to be in that very place at that particular moment, even lucky to be breaking from the routine of a normal day with children. Because how often is it that I get to sneak out of the house with just my youngest chickadee and go for an evening bike ride?

I rode across Notre Dame campus to the bookstore, and parked the bike. Elsa and I went inside and I stationed myself on a leather sofa near the poetry section. A lucky coincidence of the Notre Dame bookstore is that the poetry section is right next to the children’s books, with a comfy sofa right in between. So Elsa was fairly happy too, organizing and stacking some board books at a child-sized table, while I picked up a book of Amy Lowell’s poetry and read the introduction, which told about her life and her work. Elsa behaved so well and at one point even leaned against me and sucked her fingers, so that I was able to read all but the last page of the introduction, because at that point a staff member asked me if I knew that the bookstore closed at 9:00. So at two hours past Elsa’s normal bedtime, we went out into the warm evening and a bookstore employee locked the door behind us. It was strange to read about her privileged, unconventional, artistic, and unhappy life in aristocratic Boston society in the 1920s, and then ride out into a lazy, Midwestern college campus in summer, at dusk, back to our little student apartment, where the rickety, singular AC unit was running and Jeff was still catatonic on the futon and everything was a mess with crumbs from dinner and kids’ things spread around. But I think I pedaled a little more slowly toward home, because I wanted to feel grateful for all of it. And the ride accomplished it’s purpose beautifully: Elsa went right back to bed.

I have also been reading Letters of a Woman Homesteader, a book of letters written by a woman in Wyoming in the early 1900s. It almost gives me literary whiplash to think of the tortured Amy Lowell in Boston, composing furtive poems nightly from midnight to dawn, and her good-humored unknown-to-her contemporary, Elinore Pruitt Stewart, out homesteading in Wyoming, waking at dawn to start her work, with colorful neighbors out in the woods named Zebulon, and “critters” and “beasties,” and her highly sensible second marriage to an equally hardworking neighbor-man, and an overall upbeat attitude toward life– whether while drinking coffee next to a campfire on a mountaintop, or getting caught in a snowdrift twenty miles from home.

So, I accept my life, not because it is objectively better or worse than any other, in all its hundreds of particulars, but because by training myself to accept– not fight, not force– I might quietly release a hummingbird here and there. I might contribute something to the splendor of difference that exists in the world.

  1. annajouj
    June 10, 2011

    A fine summer poem indeed–especially as I find myself spending summer evenings on the deck where I remember watching hummingbirds at Oma's feeder, as a child . . .
    You, Julia, are contributing great things to us in your circle of the world, to be sure. I feel quite provincial these days, in my small 2-person community, so find your self-talk helpful. Last night I watched a library film you would appreciate as well, I think, if you haven't seen it: "My brilliant career" about a woman writer last century . . .

  2. melanie
    July 29, 2011

    this calmed and centered me. thank you julia. there's one contribution.