Here is the 35th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
SUBURBAN SUMMER EVENING
As I passed by on the bus:
I saw a woman dying in a hospice,
her chair propped up by the casual nurses
so she could see the hills on this ordinary day
and me passing so inconsequentially home.
Was I the last thing she saw?
At the next block, a little girl played
behind the curtains of her aunt’s bay window
enchanted in the rites of some secret game
of her own devising. The golden locks of her hair
held all the wonder of the world,
and what is always new in it,
not yet spoiled.
And I held these two things
in my mind for a moment
and weighed them as God might
in his two huge hands, had he any pity for us
or had he at least the good grace
to have existed for our convenience.
And I knew
that they could not be held apart for long,
like fish and the sea,
something always had to give
like the weeds in my garden,
severed a thousand times,
still joined together underground
by a secret network of roots
cutting through tarmac, concrete, slow as glaciers
moving in vast designs, like voltage in high wires
slung between pylons
across whispering distances
birth and death must find each other, cancel out,
short circuit, make wholeness of the disruption
stitch up the fabric of consciousness where it tore
and mend this splendid dress that nature wore.
I wrote this one about a bus journey home, which means it was one of the first poems I wrote after moving in with Rona to a house of our own in sleepy suburbia, so I suppose it’s some kind of milestone, even though it seems to refer to the outer world only, and not about anything personal. The supremely middle-aged chore of gardening even seems to have had its influence on the closing imagery.
Suburbia gets rather a bad name you know. I am appalled by the idea of whole cities of suburbia, hymns to the motor car, which seem to predominate in certain parts of America and Australia. But within the context of a healthy urban centre, suburbia can be rather a nice architectural metaphor for peace and tranquillity, and even a certain comfortable anonymity, despite the curtain twitchers. Of course, there’s something banal in it also… I immediately think of René Magritte and The Man In The Bowler Hat. I also think of Edward Hopper (see my earlier post here) in terms of the light and curious loneliness of suburbia, and his painting “Cape Cod Morning”.