So I actually worked for a while last Friday. On Thursday, just as I was contemplating reaching for the phone to make my eye appointment that I wrote about yesterday, brand-new phones that I had just bought the day before—a return at Sam’s Club in Dubuque, an artifact of my visit to Janet on Wednesday—rang. It was my third job offer to sub this year, the second for only a half day. Oh well, money is money.
However, something about that experience or the fact that we’re now all but three months of snow on the ground continuously has me imagining summer. Summers used to be my favorite time of year when I was teaching. No surprise there. Unlike lots of really ambitious teachers, I never took a second job in those weeks between school years. That meant long, long days of reading (and a few times writing) and pretty much lazing and doing what I wanted. That sounds a lot like these days—fortunately or unfortunately. I keep telling people, “Not working beats working any day.” But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.
I am dreaming of summer, no longer because I want those endless days of pleasing myself (sorry, Janet), but because summer’s just a pleasant season, although even in my aged state not my favorite season. So I dredged up this poem from a summer afternoon about 26 years ago.
In my time in Maquoketa, I have lived in several different places. Like James Arkham in “Mantorville,” when I first moved to town in the summer of 1977, having been staff-reduced from my position in Ft. Madison, I decided to upgrade my residence from an upstairs apartment in an old house (my Ft. Madison residence on good old Avenue D, which I have referred to before) to a larger space—an entire house. I have talked about this place briefly earlier, too. I lived in that house for just about two years, and then, for reasons I do not remember, I moved again, again into an upstairs apartment in an old house, this time on South Matteson Street, still here in Maquoketa. My only real recollections of living in that place are watching the BBC Shakespeare series on Sunday nights on a tiny little black-and-white TV which sat on my desk
(Janet and I also enjoyed Derek Jacobi as Hamlet in that series while on our honeymoon in exotic Minneapolis—a whole other story, or set of stories, there). One Memorial Day (1981) Janet and I, freshly involved and in love, spent grilling in the backyard. My landlady refused to let the cats run around her yard—a hideous mistake on her part as they grew increasingly restive, what with me gone up to fourteen hours a day with play and speech practices, and increasingly, well, uninterested in their litter box. Yes, the smell of cat urine is also among my memories of that apartment, sorry to admit (and I guess the landlady got what she deserved when Janet got me to move out).
When Janet and I got together, we moved into the also-upstairs apartment on Maple Street that was the setting for my cardinal poem, and as I noted earlier, my dad’s favorite of my residences. Thousands of memories fill my thoughts from that place, although the most shared by both of us is from one evening when my sister Margaret and her pastor husband Brian were visiting for the weekend. Janet had made an Italian meal, probably spaghetti, which we all enjoyed with a bottle of wine or two or three. While still consuming some of the wine, we moved to the living room where conversation flowed freely and with great joy. However, my observant wife realized that people had been talking for a while with glasses empty. So she went to the kitchen to open a fourth bottle. The cork pulled with an audible pop, causing the brother-in-law minister to remark, “Ah, I thought I heard a joyful noise.”
As the Hawkeyes advanced to the Rose Bowl, in the early winter of 1981, I proposed (well, as Janet is willing to tell almost anyone, not exactly a genuine proposal—even though what I did say did the job, obviously). The Hawkeyes matter to this non-sports fan because my then-travel agent wife was having to put together Rose Bowl packages, affecting our plans. We lived on Maple Street for about two years, moving on to an actual house of our own, rented, for somewhat less than a year before it got sold out from under us.
Then we moved to another rental house—this time quite an older building with a rock cellar (and the shower in that cellar)—on N. Arcade St., where we remained until we bought our present home, which we accomplished in the early fall of 1984.
This poem comes from the summer before we bought the house, obviously also 1984. As the title more than suggests, I wrote it while lazing on the front porch, enjoying the warmth, looking out into the brightness of the street and also later on to the dimness of the interior. Pure description, no great depth here.
On the Porch
Imagining the sunlight look like fire
reflecting from the chromed steel
on the parked car in the lot across the street,
I wonder if there are any screens to wire
in place of the still-up storms and let me feel
with an airy caress sweetening the heat
the breeze that I can see churning the trees
delicately, bobbing the enbranched leaves.
Along the neighbors’ walk, their tomcat preens,
its every hair alive to the white light
(eight minutes old) which I know gives it sight.
Gloomy paneling within makes light decrease
and the potted plants in silence feel no heaves
of amorous air nor knowledge what that means.
same day as “Freya’s Steel” notes
31 May 1984
Sorry about all the snow in those pictures I decided to take. Doesn’t quite fit a post about wishing for summer. I did enjoy my afternoon walk around town to get these taken, and I think the pictures will give me a future post one of these days very soon. I bet I have lots to say about each place.
Will there be “Mantorville” tomorrow? Only time will tell. After all I didn’t get to write—I was actually working, on a job—on Friday afternoon.