September rolls around like a pumpkin, like a pumpkin on a skateboard careening round the corner past the tail-end of August, catching me off guard every year, and I’m knocked off my feet and on to my keester, a pile of leaves cascading around me, muffling the laughter of neighborhood children.
blackbirds call – in the yellow orange light a morning shines chill and pure
It’s the memories that leave me agape more than the innumerable pumpkins, the shedding trees and goblin children already looking forward to October and All Hallow’s Eve. So many crowd into the season’s turn, old faces smiling from the theater screen of autumn’s cerulean sky, busy with the doings of a golden declarative moment. Yet one stands out.
a half-remembered song – a black-limbed tree of blackbirds scatter in the wind
My Indian parents arriving in New York with six-year-old me in hand with silk Singapore jackets on our backs from a well-traveled in-law and my mother walking home with groceries and fainting on the sidewalk from hypothermia in a freak snowstorm. Nothing quelled her spirit though. Ever. Her Christian faith was unshakeable. Besides, we were in America, land of freedom, land of dreams, land of promise. Later a church fixed us up with proper coats and my mother’s face emerged regal as a queen’s out of an oversized pumpkin-orange coat, wearing her red sari, gold-threaded border in folds, daring fashion, daring my smile.
under palm trees a new grave – blackbirds carve silhouettes in September
I know October hasn’t gone yet but the nostalgia, the sentimental overload of years gone by has settled itself in my thoughts like that old Johnny Mercer song …
And when October goes The snow begins to fly Above the smoky roofs I watch the planes go by The children running home Beneath a twilight sky –
… and I have to shake my head to clear out the old mists and let the chill winds blow through me and bring me back to the present, new days, new breezes, new moments which go by too fast but will be savored in later years.
Yet as October goes, I can’t help but linger in it just a little longer, because there have been mornings when I’ve walked with someone “through the parables of the sunlight and the legends of the green chapels,” when the presence of that person beside me – in that moment, in that time – has impressed itself upon me because of the added presence of Another, an unseen Presence, all-encompassing and immediate, who in His infinite grace, mercy, and inscrutable wisdom had ordained that moment from all eternity, and there is nothing like the autumn sunlight to cloak it all in golden mystery. Relived, it becomes a golden moment once again, lost only to be recaptured as a foretaste of what yet awaits in that promised golden time still to come, and I think Dylan Thomas, for one, would understand.
Poem In October
It was my thirtieth year to heaven Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood And the mussel pooled and the heron Priested shore The morning beckon With water praying and call of seagull and rook And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall Myself to set foot That second In the still sleeping town and set forth.
My birthday began with the water- Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name Above the farms and the white horses And I rose In rainy autumn And walked abroad in a shower of all my days. High tide and the heron dived when I took the road Over the border And the gates Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling Blackbirds and the sun of October Summery On the hill’s shoulder, Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly Come in the morning where I wandered and listened To the rain wringing Wind blow cold In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour And over the sea wet church the size of a snail With its horns through mist and the castle Brown as owls But all the gardens Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud. There could I marvel My birthday Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country And down the other air and the blue altered sky Streamed again a wonder of summer With apples Pears and red currants And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother Through the parables Of sun light And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine. These were the woods the river and sea Where a boy In the listening Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide. And the mystery Sang alive Still in the water and singingbirds.
And there could I marvel my birthday Away but the weather turned around. And the true Joy of the long dead child sang burning In the sun. It was my thirtieth Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon Though the town below lay leaved with October blood. O may my heart’s truth Still be sung On this high hill in a year’s turning.
—-Dylan Thomas (1914)
(On this his 100th birthday, listen to Dylan Thomas read his poem and be sure to check out an accompanying slideshow of what the poet saw.)