Robin Washington column: Autumn Saturdays rekindle poetic memoriesIf you could find poetic bliss and elation in the intermittent rain, the chill of the air and the tableau of nature’s paintbrush on the fallen leaves yesterday and the Saturday before, please read on. If not, skip this and go to the next article.
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune
If you could find poetic bliss and elation in the intermittent rain, the chill of the air and the tableau of nature’s paintbrush on the fallen leaves yesterday and the Saturday before, please read on. If not, skip this and go to the next article.
Forty years ago today I took my pre-SAT test. Forewarned that you can’t study for it, I didn’t, and simply filled in the multiple-choice ovals to the best of my ability. When finished, I walked across the sprawling campus of my high school to the submarine sandwich shop across the street.
Behind the counter were three beautiful young women, each of whom I secretly had a crush on at one point or another, and none of whom I yet had the courage to tell. Whether they knew anyway, I couldn’t say, but each treated me warmly, a little flirtatiously (pinching my chipmunk cheeks, calling me “so keee-ute!”), and most of all with respect, taking seriously my poetry.
One handed me a plain white paper sandwich bag to write on:
“setting thoughts free on a paper bag,
somewhere in the middle of a saturday somewhere
in the middle of the city;
all in a place i’ve been before
but an atmosphere i’ve never seen…”
It started to rain. I wrote about it, and also that:
“i’m supposed to be doing
something else, somewhere else;
i’ve found a different kind of joy,
away, inside from the rain,
not running, but watching, accepting.”
I said my goodbyes, walked a half-mile in the cool, wet October air, over sidewalks with varied leaves colored and scattered about, caught the El and went home.
A week shy of a year later, also a Saturday, I was back in the same setting to take the real SAT. As before, I let whatever knowledge I possessed flow from my brain into the little oval outlines and left the school for the fast-food joint across the street. That summer, I had gotten the nerve to write one of the girls and confess my emotions to her (“...but I am very much in love with someone else,” she wrote back.)
And again, here they were. Once more, one of them handed me a paper bag, to set thoughts free:
“on another bag, a year away;
here in the same place, on the same day of week;
not clinging to anything or any past,
but still the same it all stays…”
It was more than deja vu because I really had been there before, and the day played out the same way. More than surreal it was mystical and, hopeless sentimentalist I, marking it became an annual ritual. Oct. 19 through 27 evolved into my personal holy week, with the Saturday between those dates its crown, and years, such as this one, with two such Saturdays even more devoutly observed.
Somehow, the vespers grew to include finding a body of water to overlook while listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Seven Island Suite”:
“Anytime would be the right time to come up to your bed of boughs,
Anybody with a wish to wander could not fail but to be aroused…”
Is this all silliness?
Yes, but no more so than how any liturgical practice develops. What matters is it matters to me.
Thirty-some-odd years later we entered the Facebook world. I found two of the three, friended and was friended back by one. From her posts, it seemed she had just experienced heartbreak. I messaged her the poems. She told me she read them and cried.
No, not over the what-ifs and maybe-stills and Catfish lunacy that’s turned post-Internet life into a parody of itself, but the memory of the limitless promise of adolescence, its awkwardness, innocence, fears. And of timeless moments long ago:
“...in saturday, in october, on a paper bag,
in years and atmospheres of autumn: in life.”
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com.