“How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking – chaste weather – Dian skies.” – John Keats, Sept. 1819
In autumn the world is tipped between flower and seed, between glorious life and the turning of that life back into the soil, into sleep, into waiting.
Klondike cosmos folds into itself like an umbrella or a closing hand, the bones that had supported petals shriveling and hardening into a flower-shaped cluster of sharp mahogany seeds.
Dahlias blaze in oranges and yellows and corals and reds. All winter they’ve waited for this corner of September time, waiting so long inside the knobby beige corms you dig and store and replant every year, waiting like an image of a dream tucked inside a sleeping brain that’s somehow never replaced by other dreams, that persists and lingers until it can resurface in another dream. Every year these bulbs dream in bigger flowers, in taller stalks, in brighter colors. This is how dream and obsession become art, for plants and us.
Red milkweed, having waited and hoped for monarch butterflies, now folds itself into pods that crack open and spill drifts of seed, like feathers from a burst pillow.
This is the season that can sound as gorgeous, bare, and orchestral as Renee Fleming singing Bailero or as homely and sharp as the sound you get when you brush your hand over a student’s balalaika strings in class, reaching irresistibly for its plump triangular body although you have never played balalaika in your life: can I touch this? Sure.
Rain smells different now than any other time.
Amid the sudden roar of school and work the garden continues its life, shaggy and careless and intent, fallow and not. The red of okra pods and stalks gets deeper, more maple-ish. Potato vines start to die back, signaling dig here. Peppers on their drying strings shrivel in the basement. Bean pods plump and dangle on the vine. The freezer and dehydrator hum, transforming tomatoes. Feral cats and rabbits and mice and squirrels scurry and burrow and prowl. Change-of-season-mouse (there’s always one or two) slips through the old house and is caught (the first one was not) by the big orange cat who’s more alert now, hunkered in the cool night later and later, ears flickering. The older cat settles himself in the sill of a sunny open window and falls asleep.
In the sun, you are still warm in a t-shirt. Leave the windows open to catch that light and heat. It’s not time to close them, not yet.
John Keats (1795-1821)
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.