“Home” in August

Even though I’m not teaching in the fall, August still makes me anxious, as if I must take advantage of every little bit of time.  The wild flowers are lush–Queen Anne’s lace, chicory– the scent of purple clover abounds. Redstarts and nuthatches called to Elliot and me on our noon walk.

Not being able to go directly to the piano after breakfast, I came up here to my office and started to link together some of the bits and pieces of images and words that have been floating around my mind for some time.  Like dolls, these elements are stiff, static, until limbered by attention and brought together by play. 

The “tail end” (no pun intended) that started me off today was our Elliot, who slept with his nose under his discarded rug last night, studiously ignoring the new bed I bought him yesterday.  The phrase “smells like home” occurred to me:

For seven years he’s slept on his puppy bed,

topped with a dingy, finally unwashable, rug.

The new bed rests where the old

one was, but he will not

set paw on its new-smelling

softness; instead, sticks his nose

under the old rug wadded for trash,

sighs for what still smells like home.


“Lay it on top of the new bed,” you

suggest, and I think about the few

sticks of your mother’s furniture we

crammed into her Alzheimer’s bleached,

air-freshened room that August.

Having lost both sense of smell

and her direction to the disease,

she’d plead, “I just want to go home.”

And again, over and over again,

“Please, let me go home.”


In my first sharp memory of August,

I am a child pestering my sister

on a hot, hazy, Kansas Friday

night. Our parents have gone out.

Home is being alone with her, how

easy we  are together, laughing, wrestling,

dabbing our sweaty wrists and necks with

“Evening in Paris.” Later, she complained

of headache, took two days to die from polio.


This is a kinder August, the heat less

brutal. That disease, at least, has been

vanquished, at least, for now. The locusts

sing a less terrifying song.

After years of a commuter marriage,

you are home. Our house has brightened;

fragrant red flowers bloom from our walls.


With luck, poems and their scents remain

while homes, while Augusts, come and go.


Like all drafts, it is unsatisfactory at first: circling yet again back to “my story” (see first blog entry).  But then it changes: bits of “my story” have to make accomodations as they fit together (in “reality” my sister and I never played with perfume, nor was Steve’s mother able to take any of her own furniture to the nursing home).  And even more accomodations (cuts of unnecessary words) come as I decide to write in pentameter. I consider trying for verse, but only internal rhymes suggest themselves. I consider another “Theme and Variations” poem, because it is, essentially, variations on the theme of “home,” but (today at least) it seems to call for something a bit more coherent.  Now the delightful problem is not making it too coherent.  The stanzas may want reordering. And so it goes. Revising is play, as far as I’m concerned.

But the piano still called. Knowing how easily musical pieces can slip away from idle fingers, I strapped my shoulder into a belt borrowed from my yoga instructor and played Beethoven for half an hour.  I remember that, when my shoulder first caused trouble, last year, I had to play in shorter chunks of twenty minutes, not the longer sessions I favor. I may have to do that again.

 The reference, in the poem draft, to polio’s being “vanquished, at least, for now” stems from the recent outbreaks of polio throughout the world. Yesterday’s news indicates that the virus might indeed have mutated, and this, just a few years after it was thought that the deadly disease that killed my sister was going the way of smallpox and whooping cough.  And It probably would have, save for fear and politics. I think of what that vaccine would have meant to the hundreds of thousands of (mainly) children infected in the last sixty years.  Please read about it here.  And please: vaccinate your children.

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