The watery, inbetween world of spring has me watching leaf-dams gather rain at storm sewers, has me peering through just budding trees to sudden migrants on the wing: yesterday, a magnolia warbler a flitter of deep blue-black, white and yellow touches. “But what’s a magnolia warbler doing this far north?” asks my Shoreview friend, who has no view of shore in her north-of-Saint Paul suburb, but instead watches a pheasant cock strut his stuff while the hens play tag with him around a rain barrel.
Lakeville poet Scott King (also translator of Greek poet Yanos Ritsos, and a letterpress publisher of beautiful limited editions via Red Dragonfly Press) steps into spring too. Searching for poems to inspire my memoir group, I light on his poem “What it’s like” from his wonderfully titled book, Leftover Ordinary (2006). What do we care most about spring when we’re truly young? he seems to ask, then answers from the “mouth of a metal culvert,” I imagine somewhere in western Minnesota where he grew up.
A tiny fragment of a cattail blade goes by submerged in the tea-
stained water, spinning and tumbling in the current.
Then a pencil drifts out like a splinter off the original cross.
Then, a styrofoam cup with a piece bitten off its rim.
Strange, he thinks to himself, but wonderful as well.
And just before he leaves, a fresh cut daffodil emerges–surely
this is the flag of some far off and future country. Later,
after the sun has set and the boy has closed his eyes in sleep, the
stars will swim there, in the pool beneath the culvert, like
newly hatched minnows.
Ok: it’s hard to beat that ending with its wiggling, scintillating stars. But do my memoir-writer-turned-poets focus on closure? Not necessarily: they are as drawn to the strange splash and discovery of spring as much as Scott King. Here’s a memory of seventh-grade spring:
“Too old to splash a puddle. Still–she does, and watered mud sprays flecks of black on virgin white saddle shoes. Near home she slows, then walks down alleyways where one timid dandelion shows its head. Turns into a back yard, bounds down a hill past clotheslines still hung with white pinned tightly against the breeze. Dish towels embroidered with days of the week, bras tucked discreetly behind sheets. All flapping, fluttering in time….She opens the back door…small voices rise from basement darkness. Little brothers too young for school…found a family of kittens today across the street, a marshy field their hidden birthing place. She knows her mother won’t approve. But this spring day the girl will make a plan.”
I love the hints of sexuality and independence–truly a seventh-grade girl’s mantra. And it’s the sudden discovery of the unexpected this writer also adores in her watery, transitional world of bras, breezes and kittens.
Another memoir writer from Missouri captures earlier spring, closer to winter:
“There’s a mountain on the corner of Kellwood and Catalina, at least ten feet high! It’s made of snow. Around the mountain is a moat of ice. And under that moat is a river, at least an inch deep. When the snow starts to melt, I like to go marching. One, Two, down the street, One, Two, up. I have big black winter boots, and they smash the moat into the river. One, Two, left, right, smash smash smash….then I climb the mountain with my hands just like I can real mountains where my grandma lives. I stand at the top and look out down the hill. I can see King’s Court from there. Then I slide down the mountain like an avalanche and march back home.
“Sometimes when I go marching, the ice is already broken. Or sometimes it’s slush, where snow is watery but not all the way melted. That’s when I know that in no time, the moat will be all river….” –Antonia Kreuger
We’ve been given enormous snow mountains this year in Saint Paul too. Witness the now blackened hills studding the edge of the Sears’ parking lot on Rice Street. We’ve been given rivers all melted and topping off toward flood, then with fear exhaled, subsiding. Thanks to Scott King and my memoir group’s poetic prose, I’ve got phrases and rhythms plashing around my now sunny, now windy neighborhood forays. Maybe a catbird today in the budding lilacs? With e e cummings “In Spring” lines “when the world is puddle-wonderful” and the