Tuesday Poem: ‘The Beginning of September’ by Robert Hass

The Beginning of September

I
The child is looking in the mirror.
His head falls to one side, his shoulders slump.
He is practicing sadness.

II
He didn’t think she ought to
and she thought she should.

III
In the summer
peaches the color of sunrise

In the fall
plums the color of dusk

IV
Each thing moves its own way
in the wind. Bamboo flickers,
the plum tree waves, and the loquat
is shaken.

V
The dangers are everywhere. Auxiliary verbs, fishbones, a fine carelessness. No one really likes the odor of geraniums, not the woman who dreams of sunlight and is always late for work nor the man who would be happy in altered circumstances. Words are abstract, but words are abstract is a dance, car crash, heart’s delight. It’s the design dumb hunger has upon the world. Nothing is severed on hot mornings when the deer nibble flower heads in a simmer of bay leaves. Somewhere in the summer dusk is the sound of children setting the table. That is mastery: spoon, knife, folded napkin, fork; glasses all around. The place for the plate is wholly imagined. Mother sits here and Father sits there and this is your place and this is mine. A good story compels you like sexual hunger but the pace is more leisurely. And there are always melons.

VI
little mother
little dragonfly quickness of summer mornings
this is a prayer
this is the body dressed in its own warmth
at the change of seasons

VII
There are not always melons
There are always stories

VIII
Chester found a dozen copies of his first novel in a used bookstore and took them to the counter. The owner said, “You can’t have them all,” so Chester kept five. The owner said, “That’ll be a hundred and twelve dollars.” Chester said, “What?” and the guy said, “They’re first editions, Mac, twenty bucks apiece.” And so Chester said, “Why are you charging me a hundred and twelve dollars?” The guy said, “Three of them are autographed.” Chester said, “Look, I wrote this book.” The guy said, “All right, a hundred. I won’t charge you for the autographs.”

IX
The insides of peaches
are the color of sunrise

The outsides of plums
are the color of dusk

X
Here are some things to pray to in San Francisco: the bay, the mountain, the goddess of the city; remembering, forgetting, sudden pleasure, loss; sunrise and sunset; salt; the tutelary gods of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Basque, French, Italian, and Mexican cooking; the solitude of coffeehouses and museums; the virgin, mother, and widow moons; hilliness, vistas; John McLaren; Saint Francis; the Mother of Sorrows; the rhythm of any life still whole through three generations; wine, especially zinfandel because from that Hungarian vine-slip came first a native wine not resinous and sugar-heavy; the sourdough mother, yeast and beginning; all fish and fisherman at the turning of the tide; the turning of the tide; eelgrass, oldest inhabitant; fog; seagulls; Joseph Worcester; plum blossoms; warm days in January . . .

XI
She thought it was a good idea.
He had his doubts.

XII
ripe blackberries

XIII
She said: reside, reside
and he said, gored heart
She said: sunlight, cypress
he said, idiot children
nibbling arsenic in flaking paint
she said: a small pool of semen
translucent on my belly
he said maybe he said
maybe

XIV
the sayings of my grandmother:
they’re the kind of people
who let blackberries rot on the vine

XV
The child approaches the mirror very fast
then stops
and watches himself
gravely.

XVI
So summer gives over –
white to the color of straw
dove gray to slate blue
burnishings
a little rain
a little light on the water

I’ve spent the last four years studying American poet, Robert Hass. Over the next month I’m going to post some of my favourite Hass poems. This poem is from his collection, Praise (Ecco, 1979). There is a great recording of Hass reading this poem to an audience in Rotterdam.

For more tuesday poems check out the hub.

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