Spring is arriving in the Berkshires in fits and starts. It’s a slightly disorienting, in-between time. The sun is higher and stronger, but the trees are just beginning to leaf out, and the harsh bright light can be blinding. It’s cold enough some nights to have a fire, but it’s often still daylight when we sit down to dinner. Except for the bright chrome yellow splashes of daffodils and forsythia, nature’s palette is pretty much limited to shades of dried brown and timid green. Incremental changes are easy to overlook: the road, filled with muddy ruts a week or so ago, is hardening again, and there’s a soft reddish haze in the underbrush. At night the spring peepers fill the air with their high-pitched choruses — like the ringing of tambourines. It’s coming! It’s coming, they seem to say.
Here’s a poem by the late, great American poet Tony Hoagland about a moment like this. The New York Times wrote that “his erudite comic poems are backloaded with heartache and longing, and they function, emotionally, like improvised explosive devices: The pain comes at you from the cruelest angles, on the sunniest of days.”
A Color of the Sky
by Tony Hoagland
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.
Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,
which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
and throwing it away,
and making more.
Can’t believe Tony Hoagland is gone. What a great poem. Thank, Liza, for reminding us of his excellence.
I know — his work is so immediate. I felt like I was sitting beside him in the front seat of his car.
Love your description of early spring. I feel the same way about it being so incremental and at the same time big changes. Love ” infantile chlorophyll”. Such A bright green you know can’t last. Love you.
Thanks, Max. Love you back.
What an absolutely fabulous poem!
A great pleasure to read.
I’m so glad you liked the poem, Beata. Thank you!
Thanks Liza! Beautiful description of spring unfolding near you, and a great poem too.
Thanks, Phyllis. It turned green here overnight!
Liza, I can imagine your description perfectly at La Ferme.
What a beautiful poem…feels like a lesson on life.
Thank you for sharing it. It a surprise every year that Spring actually comes back.
I know what you mean, Kate. It’s such a happy surprise at a time when so many surprises are the other kind.
I like the poem very much too. It’s new to me. Thank you for sending it.
At this time of year I also love Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold
her hardest hue to hold
her early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
And Dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay
One of my favorite poems, too, Sue. I’ve learned it by heart — and it comes back to me every spring.
Thanks for writing!