It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
The volume GIC to HAR,
It seems I have read everything in it,
So many other nights like this.
I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak,
Listening to the long rattle and pound
Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance.
Suddenly I remember
Coming home from swimming
In Ten Mile Creek,
Over the long moraine in the early summer evening,
My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud.
I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse,
And instantly and clearly the revelation
Of a song of incredible purity and joy,
My first rose-breasted grosbeak,
Facing the low sun, his body
Suffused with light.
I was motionless and cold in the hot evening
Until he flew away, and I went on knowing
In my twelfth year one of the great things
Of my life had happened.
Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek.
On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive.
And I am on the other side of the continent
Ten years in an unfriendly city.
- Kenneth Rexroth
This venerable poet-translator of the San Francisco Renaissance (his home was often the crash pad/intellectual nexus for the Beats) creates a poem here about an urban intellectual moment that sparks an transcendent pastoral memory. Summer evenings often harbor magic it seems, particularly of the winged sort.
Did you ever page through an encyclopedia volume or a dictionary, simply seeking something - anything - new? And where do you find yourself most often these long, warm days: city or farmhouse? Indoors or out? Present or past?
p.s. For more of Rexroth's biography and a sampling of his translated poems, try http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/1270 .