Like a Summer Kangaroo
February barks and howls and whistles at us. Like everybody else here, I’m feeling the monster heavy rains, day and night, battering us where we live and work in California, in the printed circuits of Silicon Valley.. It's damp, all right, and cold inside our house; you can feel it in your bones. The California Chill, or call it whatever you want. The other day, our fearless new Governor delivered his state of the union address, and there are many things to talk about, debate, envision in his 43-minute speech. But I’m not keen to discuss politics right now: hard to know what I can add to the discussion beyond the venting of emotions, good and bad.
Hey, I’d rather talk poetry, if you don’t mind. Do you? On a whim the other day, I picked up my trusted copy of John Ashberry's "Notes from the Air", his selected later poems (by no means complete, but really good), and I'm revisiting the poems that I've read with great pleasure some ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago, scattered through various poetry magazines. I mean, the so-called “little” magazines which are truly larger than life. They're all here, now, in one place, and it's a movable feast (to use Hemingway’s phrase for Paris in the 1920s), the Super Bowl Sunday of America's greatest poet (to my mind). Ashberry was born in 1927, and died at the age of 90 in 2017; his work will doubtless live forever. Poets always die young, like Keats and Rimbaud, or they die too young, like Dylan Thomas, whose work I come back to each year, usually around Christmas when I re-read "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Ashberry proves that you can write great poetry as a young man and an old man, and contrary to a fundamental assumption in American life, particularly the life of an American writer, you *can* get better with age. There are second acts, not many, of course, and you have to choose them wisely, or let go enough to allow them to come your way.
Here’s the poem that I like.
Like a summer kangaroo, each of us is a part
of the sun in its tumbling commotion. Like us
it made no move to right things, basking where the spent stream
trickled into the painted grotto.
Yes, and the snow-covered steppe, part of the same opera,
stretched into dimness, awaiting the tenor’s aria
of hopelessness. Yet no shadow fell across any of it.
It might have been real. Perhaps it was. Stranger tales
have been spun by travellers in unreassuring inns
while the last embers collapse one into the other, waking
no riposte. ‘It was at a garrison in central Tadzhikistan.’
And then sort of get used to it, and then not be there.
Each noted with pleasure that the other had aged,
realising as well that new scenery would have to be sent for
and transported thousands of miles over narrow-gauge railroads –
a fountain in a park, a comforting school interior,
a happy hospital – and that, yes, it would be worth waiting for.
That’s the poem I stumbled onto in the collection, entitled "How Dangerous," and as you can see, the first line begins "Like a summer kangaroo."
I'm not exactly sure what a summer kangaroo is, but it evoked images of Australia in January, at least the Australia I saw recently on the telly watching the Australian Open Tennis tournament in Melbourne. Notably, everybody, fans from all over the world were having a great time of it, cheering on their favorites, hugging and kissing each other, enjoying life, I guess, like a summer kangaroo.