Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WHAT MATTERS: THE WEATHER


Budbreak. Photo: Lisa Ezzard

Lisa:

About "It doesn't matter," about what matters, about nothing being that important...I have just been so very humbled in my initiation to the farmer's life. As you know, I have been steadily pruning the vines all winter, and a mild winter it has been. We had budbreak almost a month early, and all the old time farmers (including my dad) knew we were in trouble – that there has always been a frost in April. But we all fell for the exception, prayed for it, or believed in it. On Wednesday night, as we had closely been watching the weather forecast, the freeze came. There was really nothing we could do about it, and most of the vineyards in North Georgia really suffered. We lost a good portion of our crop for this year, and our harvest will be very small. It was so difficult to see all of my wilted little bundles of berries, to see all of the shriveled vines that were, the previous day, laden with new shoots and tiny clusters of fruit. So...what matters? The weather? The temperature? The helpless human efforts to change Mother Nature? The surrender? Yes, I suppose it is this surrender, this silver lining that matters.

THE SILVER LINING

As good farmers do,
having watched the weather report for weeks,
we await the arrival of the dangerous April night 

At two o'clock the thermometer reads 38º
At three o'clock it drops to 33º
And by four Dad is out with his frost dragon
sputtering "Damn the War!"
blowing hot air

Mom has made grits and fresh coffee
building on the drama
and I have dreamed of lighting smudge pots
cranking windmills, casting spells

But by daybreak
the cold has had its way

The vineyards are a mix of wilt and shrivel
tiny clusters of grapes hang their heads in surrender
and the vines are embarrassed

They will compensate as we all do
and in a few weeks there will be five shoots
instead of two, green masses sprouting –
without fruit

we all know this puffing up
once we've been wrecked
this loss of virility, beauty
and substance

But with the second bud, we begin again
lesser than we were
but twice as potent
and with the third bud – the survival bud –
we are barren

It’s 8:00 in the morning,
robins, sunshine
my daughter is grown
I'm walking the vineyard in my silver lining
letting it all be – saplings, wilt,
surviving green shoots
all in their silver lining

~ Lisa Ezzard © 2012

**

Oriana:

It’s interesting that “the silver lining,” which stands for optimism, for hope – “no curse without a blessing” – is first equated with surrender, “letting it all be.” There is full acceptance of the freeze, the loss. Yet both the vines and the farmers will rebound from this disaster. So what matters is not giving up. My mother lived by “never give up.”

There are exceptions: times when it’s best to cut the losses by withdrawing. But on the whole, the maxim works. The life force in the vines and the human spirit will simply try again. I’m reminded of Szymborska’s wonderful stanza from “Nothing Twice,” in my literal translation:

Bad hour, why do you traffic
with needless anguish and fear?
You exist, therefore you shall pass.
You shall pass – how magnificent.

**

From the artistic point of view, I especially like the last stanza:

It’s 8:00 in the morning,
robins, sunshine
my daughter is grown
I'm walking the vineyard in my silver lining
letting it all be – saplings, wilt,
surviving green shoots
all in their silver lining

~ it’s the sudden introduction of the daughter that is a surprise here. It’s an example of parataxis, or juxtaposition without any “logical” conjunction:

It’s 8:00 in the morning,
robins, sunshine
my daughter is grown
I'm walking the vineyard in my silver lining

It’s up to the reader to decide why the daughter has appeared in this poem (which works wonderfully at the emotional level, even if we can’t fully explain why). One reason might be to indicate the speaker’s age. Women with grown daughters have to surrender to the fact that their own youth is over. Speaking from experience, it’s not easy to admit to yourself that you are no longer the beautiful young thing you once were, with men rushing to help you with luggage or finding some other excuse to interact. Now you need strength, intelligence, self-reliance, charisma, charm.

Sure, you needed those things before, but now you REALLY need them. Now the power of your spirit is being tested. Aging can reduce a woman to despair, or it can make her blossom. Call it the second blossoming. Divorced from the fertility of the body, it’s a more potent blossoming of the mind, of character.

The middle stanzas prepare us for the last stanza:

They will compensate, as we all do,
and in a few weeks there will be five shoots
instead of two, green masses sprouting –
without fruit

we all know this puffing up
once we've been wrecked
this loss of virility, beauty,
and substance


Frost damage. Photo: Lisa Ezzard

At first the word “virility” struck me as not quite correct, and I was tempted to suggest “vitality” in its place. Unfortunately “vitality” is a weak word – it’s not a visceral word, and the sound does not carry the meaning. “Virility” in the broader sense is precisely right, since it stands not just for manhood, but for strength. Amazing what a single “r” can do.

Thank you, Lisa, for a poem about survival and hard-earned hope, both in nature and at the personal level. Ultimately, the poem is about trust in nature and in ourselves. So what matters? Surrender to reality (rather than denial) and trust that things will turn around and new life will result after all.


John:

Here is a poem by Margaret Szumowski:

The Unlikely Landscape of Forgiveness 
The way the land itself forgives flood
and grows huge tomatoes the following year,
shoots from black earth, rows of corn shuddering
in the background. Still there is violence in the land,
bolts of lightning that could set the barn on fire,
and terrify the cows. Anger of the farmer
who turns on his wife and daughters.
Thirsty plants, heavy crops.
He studies his little red notebook.
Children and wife too much
for a man under pressure. He could guard them
jealously, as a red-winged blackbird guards his fields,
letting no one near his beauties. He could peck out their eyes.
And the half-blind beauties will forgive him.

~ Margaret Szumowski

Oriana:

The powers of rebirth, the ability to forgive – need we say more? So true. 


Mary:

thanks, oriana, and lisa. love the poem's turn to the grown daughter. sorry to hear about the freeze of the vineyards. i was just tending my own grapevine, whose budbreak was quite recent, and thinking about the heat last summer that killed off the fruit.

Oriana:

Having lived in cities all my life, except for my summers vacations when I was growing up in Poland, I forgot that farmers don’t need to ask themselves what matters. Nature, especially the weather, is their “higher power.” I can understand, eons ago, human and/or sacrifice for the sake of fertility. Not that it helped.

By the way, I think that Lisa’s budbreak photo is simply transcendent – luminous like hope itself. And the unexpected line about the daughter is my favorite too, a moment of advanced poetic skill. Poetry is the perfect medium for that kind of compressed reflection and collapsed time.

Hyacinth:

I appreciate Lisa keeping me in touch with the natural world, the one I remember as a child. She captures it all so well. I feel as if I'm there suffering the loss of a crop. My father in law was a great gardener and planted by the moon, usually very successfully.  My parents used the Almanac. I don't think farmers are as appreciated in our country as they should be.

My mother's motto, which I shuddered to hear it repeated, but it is true: "this too shall pass . . . " 

Oriana:

“This too shall pass” is humanity’s oldest and truest mantra – it is solace in hard times, and makes you shudder if it crosses your mind while you are happy.

2 comments:

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  2. I want to emphasize how delighted I am to have learned from Lisa about the peculiar Southern curse, "Damn the war!" ~ it may have originally referred to the Civil War, but now we are free to interpret it more broadly.

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