–with thanks to Jennifer Guyor Jowett for the Open Write invitation on Ethical ELA today: “Share your summertimes with us, whether it’s within the memories of your childhood or the place you are in right now. Take us there. Include sensory details to evoke the spirit of your summer.”
I have written lot about my childhood summers. Today I try a bit of reframing and recapturing the magic…
Eternal Summer Reigns
Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?
—Mr. Tumnus to Lucy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I live it every day of my life, summer.
By some great magic I am still a child
returning to my grandparents’ house
so deep in the country some people say
it’s at the end of the Earth
for me, ever the beginning
a place of woods, holding their secrets close
a place of enchantment, outside of Time
a place of belonging, of sacrifice
where ghosts of the past live again
in Grandma’s stories
there’s her Papa, tending bees
never getting stung
her Mama, picking cotton
and dipping snuff
her brothers and sisters
(eight in all)
or piling in the goat-cart
to be pulled by a white mule
there’s my grandfather and his brother
courting my grandmother and her sister
gathering at friends’ houses
singing and make taffy
my father, being born
in a tenant farmer’s house
—Cotton-Top, they call him,
for the color of his hair
when he is a toddler
babies born into the family
(Daddy’s voice…Would have been
so interesting to see
what my double first cousins
would have looked like
if they’d lived)
—I live them every day,
I am the stories.
Every day I am a child
unpacking my suitcase
for the summer
welcoming the ghosts
walking the old dirt road
eventually covered with gravel
from phosphate mining rejects
bits of ancient history
crunch beneath my feet:
shark’s teeth, some tiny and sharp,
some as big as my small palm;
coral skeleton, white chunks
embossed with lacy flower designs;
whale eardrums, curiously curved fossils
—with these, whales heard
their own stories, too
now, they are
part of mine
and above all, above all
from the surrounding woods, bending near
keeping their secrets close
the crescendo and decrescendo
the true song of summer
and the sun
By some great magic I am still a child
still listening, still living summer every day
in that sound.
My grandmother in the summer of 1959, years before my birth. This is the setting of my idyllic childhood summers to come, beginning a decade and a half later. I would stay for a couple of weeks each year and never wanted to leave. Grandma fostered my love of reading, writing, and story. She drove me to the tiny county library at the beginning of my summer visits and helped me haul out the armloads of books I selected. She saved magazines, Mini Pages, and National Enquirers all year long for me.
We walked the old cemetery in the clearing diagonally across from where she sits in this photo and the graveyard of the church around the bend, where her parents are buried. As we read the stones, the blazing sun casting our shadows across them, Grandma told me the stories.
The fossils in the gravel of the poem were real. I found handfuls of them in the road here when I was a child.
Cicadas are an ancient symbol of immortality and resurrection. I write of them often because of their connection to this place. Their loud, rattling chorus was ever-present in the background of my childhood summers; the sound remains one of the most comforting on Earth to me. It’s a call of the sun, love, belonging, and home. There’s a myth about the goddess of the dawn, Aurora, asking Jupiter to grant immortality to her lover, which he did, only the goddess forgot to ask Jupiter to also grant her man eternal youth. Her beloved continued aging until Aurora finally turned him into a cicada. If you look closely at depictions of Aurora, you will see the cicada. Why tell this story here? This morning, before the dawn, before the cicadas woke to sing, I saw Jupiter shining high beside the moon. Then I sat down to write to this prompt of summer celebration, reliving halcyon childhood moments with my grandparents at their home, a place where my generational roots run deep in the earth, where my father grew up…an old, far place in the east, named Aurora.
For me, ever the beginning. Eternal summer reigns.
thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for providing a place to share our stories – for we ARE our stories
7 thoughts on “Eternal summer: memoir poem”
Fran, with your usual imaginative way of framing a story, you brought me into your halycon summer days. By adding such beautiful sensory details, I felt the sun beating on my head. I listened to the cicada sounds and walked the stretches of land you walked beside your grandmother. It is amazing how story can hold such delights and bring us to the revelation of our own stories of youth with those we love. This is a beautiful slice poem about the true song of summer. By the way, I need to lift that beautiful thought. Thank you for the trip back in time. May your grandgirls grow cherishing their own summer stories with you.
Wow! This is amazing. really I should say these are amazing because you have written a poem and a beautiful tribute to your grandmother.
There is so much richness here. I love how you include the natural history of the fossils, cultural history of the mining, and family history. I especially love how the family history included the stillborn, wondering how things would have been if they had lived, several generations ago. This is depth in imagining and in writing. And the cicadas! Of course they had to be there.
Summertime and childhood…those are the days dearly missed and yet lived over and over again. Thanks for this wonderful piece. Reminded me of so many things I did with my grandparents as a child!
Fran, I love this even more on the second reading than on the first. You have provided some warm and loving memories of those from your past who brought you to these moments you share with your own grandchildren today. I also love the picture, which I did not see on the first reading yesterday. How beautiful that you share the sacredness of the presences of loved ones in your life. Beautiful!
I really loved this… so many connections and reflections! That iconic 50’s photo… I have some of my mom and aunts that look so much like it! Some of my favorite lines are the cicada lines… crescendo and decrescendo… such perfect words for how they sound!
So good to read, Fran! Your writing is always a breath of singing air and joy with your wonderful poem and depth of memories. I hear those cicadas and feel those ancient fossils!