Monday, June 21, 2010

Chinese Bell for the Summer Solstice

Never published, this poem continues to nettle, to agitate in my craw. What better day to dig it out and air it in the longest light?

Chinese Bell for the Summer Solstice


Long ago, when he was maybe 50,

my father took a solitary walkabout

by Greyhound bus, across the West,

across the Golden Gate, chasing something

he had missed. From a fish shack

on the wharf he called and said, “It’s still light here.”

It shocked me: time zones something startling, new.

(On the only part of turning earth I knew

Ohio was already dark as it would often be,

Perhaps it was that Midwest night

that drove my dad to Chinatown.)

Outside the screen door, a hundred fireflies sparked,

I barely noticed, not yet knowing how

Exotic they were.

. I wanted more

Of California, hugged the black receiver

and heard from far away a gull.

I tried to see my father there, taking in the cobalt sea,

swooping birds, California sun like heaven

in his eyes. Then: “There’s a prison out there,” he

said., “and sharks would eat you if you tried to get away.”


Back home

he gave my mother

turquoise rings and in a narrow box

wrapped in newsprint with Shanghai script,

a simple cone of solid brass from Chinatown.

For years she rang it, calling guests to dinner,

They signed her leather guest book by the dozens,

An inventory of the Mister and Missus

Christians of Ohio, sipping homemade

Tomato juice from heirloom crystal on paper

Doilies and complimenting my mother’s rhubarb pie.

When we closed up their house,

surprised by melancholy memory

of my father’s midlife pilgrimage,

my mother’s hostess rites when he got back, I grabbed

the bell from a black bag bulging and

all ready for Goodwill.

I wonder if she found him changed,

At peace with her and finally satisfied.


Now every summer solstice,

my days in need of ritual

I wait for darkness with

the bell from Chinatown.

I don’t know how the bell got

Mixed up with it,

Proof my father lit out

Against his rampant heart?

Silvery clang against sorrow?

I love the give and take of light

at this, my native latitude,

a daily shifting truth the earth still owns.

I claim this bell, its perfect “ting,” a token

of my father’s restlessness but

also love: he went somewhere

for happiness, and he came home.


I seem to see things best at fading light,

when sharp black birds at bright 9:30

soar out of elms to shifting blue.

At 10 the cherry tree demolished

by a winter storm bares what I hadn’t seen:

dead branches bent like crones on what will be

the tree’s last sun before the chainsaw.

I’m glad I caught its last two blooms:

the one before the gale, when flowers

rushed our weathered fence, then mournful pinks

of this year’s brave but meager encore.


It’s not quite dark but tough times anyway,

Today, in fact, in floods of Iowa, a farmer

had to kill his pigs. A few survivors

screamed when roped and lifted

from the bilge. They’re all that’s left , he said,

but who would want to eat them now,

soaked with diesel fuel and shit?

What misery – saved, then euthanized

by what was in the flood. This solstice poem ,

at first a song to days, now seems to want

a hymn to night: why do those doomed and salvaged

pigs want in this poem, a poem that’s struggling

with the light?


At 10:15 three fireflies flash the purple yard

And I recall that childhood night

my father’s voice a promise

from the glamour of the bay

but I wonder if when summer dawns

less light may come as a relief.

I ring my father’s bell -- And now

begin invoking myths

for those who followed light

and disappeared.


The Cat Bastet said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this. Happy Solstice.

Anonymous said...

Great poem!

ted said...

Really a great poem!

Scilence Dogood said...

Depressing, needs nudity said...

Read you article