Friday, June 24, 2022

Red Letter Poem #116

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner



Red Letter Poem #116




Summer arrives freighted with expectation.  Maybe that’s because so many of us were conditioned by the long school year where, at that June goal line, we’d be set free into a two-sided paradise: freedom/boredom.  Or perhaps it’s just a sense of relief that sun and warmth bring – especially for those of us dwelling in the northern hemisphere – after the endurance we mustered to face an interminable winter.  And, unavoidably, each new summer reminds us that time is indeed passing, and we’ve no guarantees about how many seasons we are to be granted.


“One must have a mind of winter”, wrote Wallace Stevens in “The Snow Man”, to regard that cold unfolding.  Perhaps that’s true for summer as well – a mind geared, not just for the grand moments (the dazzling display of Fourth of July rockets or the reward of those exotic of vacation locales,) but for the slow-motion flowering and decline of the garden; the symphonic layers of birdsong, cicada drone, and wind-stirred oaks; and (my personal Elysium) the riotous mouthful of the season’s first ripe tomato.  Or, in the case of poet Alan Feldman, the quiet captivation of stellar light. . .when accompanied, especially, by a like-minded loved one.  Ambivalent winds blow quietly through his new poem: expectation and disappointment; memory and presence.  I find much in the speaker’s meditation that resonates with my own summer thinking.  Perhaps it will spur your own, now that the season has officially taken hold.  I’m happy to have Alan make his second Red Letter appearance with this new poem.  He’s the author of four poetry collections, the most recent of which – The Golden Coin (University of Wisconsin Press) – was awarded the Four Lakes Poetry Prize.  For many years, Alan was a professor (and later chair) of English at Framingham State University. After retiring he continued to teach free drop-in poetry workshops in Framingham and on Cape Cod.  He and his wife Nan (a painter whose work, I’m sure, sharpens her husband’s eye) divide their time between Florida and the Commonwealth.


Indeed, summer comes to us, burdened by our pent-up desires and unbridled anticipation.  (You can say the same, I guess, about poetry, art, life itself.)  But, every now and then – if we’ve developed a mind and a heart for it – it delivers.







Question:  If we enter a dark hallway 

will the past shine behind us, so we won’t 

feel so lost?  Remember Lieutenant Island?

Remember the cottage with the cupola that swayed

in the night wind?  But we’re outside starbathing.

We’d just been making love inside our Plymouth

so the kids wouldn’t hear us.  No ambient light.

Stars sharp as lasers.  Copious.  Like outer space.

Our forearms on the aluminum armrests of the deckchairs.

This is the summer I’ll write my children’s book,

our daughter asking for nightly chapters. And our son

had a kind playmate, Dave, who will move to North Carolina 

and became a homicide detective.  The lovely past!

And the night sky, whose lights come from there.



                                     – Alan Feldman




The Red Letters 3.0


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