I am not often out of bed by 5 a.m., but Sunday night was an early one for me. After the guests left, well-satisfied after platters of meatballs, pasta and my Aunt Sophie's homemade meatballs and sauce that had simmered on the stove for hours, I straightened up and went to bed.
The uncommon heat of the day before was long gone by the time I woke to the reassuring racket of the crickets from the patio outside my screen door. I stumbled over to the gas fireplace and immediately flames began warming me up.
Today is the first day of October and it has brought, unbidden, a sudden awareness that it is indeed autumn. Inevitably my thoughts turn to the calendar.
Ever since I was a boy in Kentucky, I felt the stirrings of time-consciousness as the leaves began to fall. I am hardly alone in this regard. My soundtrack of my childhood includes Ramble On, and memories of columnist John Ed Pearce's pieces on the changing of the seasons have always danced around the corners of my own awareness of being a writer and a journalist. One of the earliest piece I ever wrote as an adult, though 18's claim on the status is thin, was like that, clumsily putting into words the sensation of walking across the campus on a cold October evening and hearing time running out as birds flew overhead against a burnt-orange sunset.
A few days ago, rummaging through the stacks at Green Libary at Stanford, I came across a book by Christopher Dickey about his flawed and brilliant father, the poet and author James Dickey. When Christopher's mother had died, the poet had requested that a poem by Robert Penn Warren be read at the service, which ends, "Tell me a story of deep delight."
I recognized the poem, for that last line has haunted me, as both comfort and challenge, for decades.
Recalling it now, I remmber that I have always associated it with the fall, even though it's clearly about spring the "season before the elderberry blooms." It's about a boy on the verge of manhood, I suppose, hearing a call to the future.
That's okay. Poetry, like music, speaks in a language that leaves impressions that come before and last longer than understanding.
[ A ]
Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard The great geese hoot northward.
I could not see them, there being no moon And the stars sparse. I heard them.
I did not know what was happening in my heart.
It was the season before the elderberry blooms, Therefore they were going north.
The sound was passing northward.
[ B ]
Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania, Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time, But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.
Robert Penn Warren, whom you can hear read a different poem, The Nature of a Mirror, [here].