Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
~~~ stanley kunitz, touch me ~~~
it was totally by chance that i came across that poem and its writer, stanley kunitz. those days, actually even now, when i am restless or feeling a little blanked out, empty… does that happen to you?… when i feel like that, i try to find new poems or paintings i haven’t seen before. the net becomes wonderland and i am a-traipse.
that day i just wanted to find words that grabbed me and i started looking through the pages of poetry sites, searching for something that spoke to me. what struck me first was the elegance of the first line, which was also at the same time evocative, opening up something in me. summer is late, my heart… my unknown poet had written. with those five words filled with a longing for what wasn’t and yet what was keenly awaited, i began reading the poem, a bit surprised at my own desire to understand a poet’s words, an urgency in me.
while in college i have done much not to get too embroiled with the words and imagery of great writers. i certainly never looked for poetry i hadn’t read. but something happens with age i guess. you change, you want different things, i wanted the depth of poetry. even if i didn’t understand a word of it. which i often didn’t.
i read the poem, it’s called “touch me” very quickly, it drew me in… when i reached the bit that says “under a gunmetal sky,” something immediately caught my attention. it may have been the word gunmetal. in india, in a place called bidar near hyderabad, they make beautiful gunmetal decorative pieces inlaid with silver. bidri work. dark slate black is the colour of the metal on which shine fine lines of polished silver. i was surprised at the use of this word to describe the sky… i read on, he spoke of the song of crickets. i was reminded of shelley’s to a skylark. but while shelley was astounded and touched and driven to verse marveling at the beauty of the sound, the “unpremeditated art”, my poet here was keen to know what made this tiny creature sing at all? he answered it with three words…
desire, desire, desire.
i fell in love with that line.
it’s possibly true that crickets’ stridulation or chirping or singing is really to do with mating. and so desire may be seen in that narrow sense, but then what’s narrow about something that is key to survival of a race, a species, that brings the next generation into being.
and yet i saw desire in a much bigger way, as i am sure the poet meant me to.
coming as i do from a world where i keep hearing desire is to be overcome and turned away from, and never having been able to come to terms with that quite, i started smiling. that’s it. if you don’t have desire, how would you live. how would you do anything? life itself is like an expression of the desire of something, the very essence of us, to live, isn’t it?
i read the poem again and again. each time touching on different lines and feeling a funny happiness. i am possibly far more insignificant than that cricket who got the poet’s attention but in me too that same desire…
when i finished, i went looking for more by the writer. i found out his name. stanley kunitz. a little wiki reading told me he was a very well known american poet, in fact he had been poet laureate twice. he had had an often difficult and also triumphant in many ways life. at that time he was about 95 years old. i read he was an avid gardener. i rushed to take a look at his garden and sighed at the beautiful corners and patches he had created with layers of different colours, shapes, and moods.
in 2006, at the age of 100 stanley kunitz died.
i felt sad for days. a poet i had discovered on my own without any prompting by anyone and who was always meaningful to read. his words beautiful. he held them with love and strength, never letting them fly too much or get unnecessarily ornate, terribly 20th century in their feel, yet making sure they reached the depth and breadth he meant them to. i haven’t read all his poems, but every once in a way, i go and look up a new one. like i did yesterday on my handphone, while sitting outside a mall waiting for my daughter. i read one of his early poems, “organic bloom” … “but life escapes closed reason. we explain/
our chaos into cosmos, cell by cell,”…
i usually end with a reading of “touch me”.
i often think the net is such a fabulous place, you never know what priceless thing you may find there.
just a couple of years ago, while trying to find something on the vedas and the upanishads i saw the nasadiya sukta that seems to talk about the coming into being of the universe. two lines made me grin and remember the crickets:
in the beginning desire descended on it –
that was the primal seed, born of the mind.
~~~ nasadiya sukta ~~~
*wiki says this about cricket song: “There are four types of cricket song: The calling song attracts females and repels other males, and is fairly loud. The courting song is used when a female cricket is near, and is a very quiet song. An aggressive song is triggered by chemoreceptors on the antennae that detect the near presence of another male cricket and a copulatory song is produced for a brief period after a successful mating.”
**touch me, copyright stanley kunitz.