There once was a time
when blossoms and I were both
fresh and unabashed.
NOTES: When I was a junior, my high school hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan. Susumu stayed with the DuBois family, who lived a few blocks away.
A couple of years ago, through the miracle of Facebook, I reconnected with Susumu. When I discovered he had taken several photos of his days in my hometown, I was excited. He very kindly shared them with me, and I have been lovingly looking through them and rekindling old memories.
Those photos include precious images of teachers long since gone. Of friends and classmates not seen for decades. And simple scenes of my hometown, a town that has changed so much since I walked its streets.
One of the photos was of me. I don’t remember it being taken. All evidence points to it being the spring of 1969. I am outfitted in what passed for a tennis uniform in those days. I must have just finished practicing with Susumu’s host brother, Dave DuBois. We were teammates on the Marshall High School tennis team, and we practiced out on the new hard surface courts at Missouri Valley College.
From the foliage, it was early spring. The tulip tree was in full bloom, but the other trees had not leafed out. I wore a leather bracelet on my right wrist, which was the cool, hippie thing to do.
My hair was growing out and would need to be cut before football practice started in August. (Coach Cecil Naylor really didn’t like long hair!)
As spring comes into its full, glorious own here in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered a wonderful spring poem I had never read before.
Mary Karr posted a short poem by Philip Larkin last week on her Facebook page. In one of those interesting coincidences, I had just been encouraged to look into Larkin by my literary friend and colleague, Mark Neigh.
(You know how you discover a new word one day, and then you see it and hear it all around you the next? It was sort of like I was surrounded by Larkin all of a sudden.)
I already had Larkin’s “Collected Poems” on my bookshelf, but hadn’t read much in it. I’d never been much impressed by what little I had read of Larkin, but his spring poem really hit home. I must never have given him a proper chance. Or the timing wasn’t right.
Here it is, just 12 short, beautiful lines:
by Philip Larkin
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.