North of Autumn | P.S. – Hymn #7

I’m writing this on my smartphone—a new trick for me. Not sure what it’s going to look like when I publish it. I’m in Berlin again. My father died earlier in the month. I knew he was in poor health and had hoped to see him before he died. In the meantime, my daughter has taken up temporary employment with Germany’s NASA—the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft and Raumfahrt, or DLR for short. Also in Berlin. So here I am. I haven’t had time or the place to continue writing North of Autumn. I have had time to continue working on the poems. I just finished this one while riding the U2, the U-Bahn line between Ruhleben and Pankow, stopping at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz.

  Whatever rakes the attic floor,
There won't be any ghost;
And if there's scratching at your door,
A gust of leaves at most.

Though I may whisper my good-byes,
Who hears the Thrush's song,
Who's seen which way the Raven flies
Will never stay for long.

I'll have crossed the fresh-laid snow
And left no trace behind;
The summers that I used to know
Will since have slipped my mind.

P.S.

Life is itself enough to scare
The living half to death,
No need for supernatural fare
To steal away our breath.

Finished on the U2 July 28th 2022
by Me

The hymn steals lines from a sonnet I wrote many years ago but was never satisfied with. I don’t think I ever posted or otherwise published it. Also, a little something from Berlin:

North of Autumn | Into the Woods

This is a longer narrative poem I wrote specifically for my novel. I also mentioned a while back that I wanted to write a poem in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. You could almost call this poem a Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream. I was tempted to call it that. The verse form is Blank Verse and, in some choice moments, I made use of internal rhyme. I’ve included an audio. I misread the verse in a couple places, but it takes a good eleven minutes to read, so I didn’t feel too perfectionist about it. I also wasn’t sure if I should capitalize the names of plants. I couldn’t be bothered to research so I did. As far as I know, you won’t find poetry written like this by anybody anywhere else in the world. Enjoy!


Into the Woods


I’m told they finally closed the bridge. 
            They say
It’s for the season. I don’t mind it closed.
Autumn is the time of year a tree
Will make her apron from the leaves she scatters;
And neat and tidy as a pin she’ll strew
The self-same skirt with fruits and nuts. The shame
Is when her labor’s swept into a ditch
Her summer lost to all the traffic’s coming
And going. 
      Were the brook to drown the bridge
As she’s been threatening to for forty years
I’d be as pleased to see it gone. And sure
I’d have to go by Hodge’s into town.
Old Hodge! Such stories as he liked to tell!
He’s since long gone but I remember how
My mother scolded him from time to time.
She’d ask him. ‘Stealing berries from your neighbor?
No fields of your own?’
                        ‘Too shaded,’ he’d say.
And then she’d answer, ‘Cut down all those Hemlocks!
And why not plant your berries there?
                        ‘I’d never!’
He’d answer with a wink my ways. ‘Someday
They’ll up and go all by themselves. You’ll see.’
And I being just a little girl saw how
They could and straightaway that night I dreamt
Of Hemlocks. 
            Just past midnight came a gust
That shook the windowpanes. I sat upright
Or dreamt I did. When one’s so young life’s anyhow
A half-remembered dream.
            I looked straight out
The window where I saw the further ridge
And Hodge’s Hemlocks quaking top to bottom.
I slipped from bed and tip-toed to the sill
And leaned with nose and elbows. There was not
The slightest breeze and yet the Hemlocks teetered
And tottered down the ridge the way we used to
Before electric came—when all we had
Was balancing a candle in one hand
And the other out before us all the same.
They slipped into the hollow; not just Hemlock,
But birch and Sugar Maple followed.
They swayed into my dooryard just as though
They’d been there all along. Next there was a tapping
As of a bony finger at the window
As might a neighbor come by casually
To say ‘Hello’. And what with all their reeling
And almost almost falling down, there were everywhere
Acorns, pine cones, twigs and whirligigs
And apples that swung like rusty bells whose tongues
Had since gone dry and shriveled. 
                                          What was I?
Six? Seven? I thought nothing more than straight
Undo the latch and open up the window.
I meant to let them in and in they came—
The sprung and rickety articulation,
The lean, long-fingered limbs. They combed and lifted
My hair, and poked and plucked and pinched my nightgown
(And by my nightgown picked me up). I held
My blanket sailing round me as I spun
From limb to limb. Their plaint timbers groaned
And popped as though the ocean rolled beneath them.
Their roots like prying thumbs dismantled obstacles:
They sent the stones from stone walls tumbling down
And knocked the stooks out of their rows and columns.
Sure as I stand and talk to you today
I still can feel the ribbing tips of sticks
Like fingertips, the sticking scent of pine,
The papery slough of the birch and wild vine
Against the skin. They took me from the dooryard
Into the wooded valley where the brook
Runs leisurely; where oftentimes I’d look
For Marigold and Summersweet. You might say
The child taking home the buds of May—
The firstlings of the season—was no different
Than were the woods returned to take the child
Straight from her house into the wild. By rights
It’s just the same. 
                   They set me barefoot
On the leaf and needle covered floor.
I turned a little circle as I pulled
My blanket into something like a hood
(As if to hide). The scent of petrichore
Was in the air. I peeked; they gawked at me.
They stood like giants stooping low as if
To better see the girl they’d snatched away
(Tiny as I was). And then it seemed
That they’d decided. First to do was take
My blanket. You would hardly think a Thornapple
Could be so delicate and yet it was.
And then the others took to prodding me
Until I’d lifted up my arms and stretched them straight
To either side. They circled me like tailors,
I in their fitting room.
                  You’ll want to know
Just what the forest wanted. To tell the truth,
I know as little now as then. The best
I ever do is simply tell the story—
How if there were a spider’s web between
The aspen’s limbs, a birch would twirl it away:
She’d wind a yarn to weave into my braids
With Fleabane’s petals at my shoulder blades;
How when the Willow brought the cattail’s leaf
The Popple made me wristlets and a sash;
And as I waited came the Cherry Tree
To daub my lips with Hobble Bush (Witch-Hobble
Its hereabouts called). To think that they would stain
A girl’s lips with that!
                  You might have thought
The late September’s wind had riled them—splayed
A hundred limbs into a thousand fingers
Grasping at their leaves before they fell,
But this was no haphazard storm or season
For soon as they had daubed my lips and cheeks
They made me sandals for my feet—tied with cords
Of knotted grass—and lastly wove a crown
Of honeysuckle vine and the silk of Thistledown.
A train of dragonflies attended me
With ruby wings and emerald eyes—they circled 
As if I were the Fearie Queen and they 
My courtiers. Then the forest made no sound
Apart from here and there the leaf, the stick or fruit
That fell or struck the ground.
                        I’ve since been told
That old marble, the moon, went tumbling down;
Hodge’s jenny jumped the neighbor’s fence
And quarreled with the goose. The wind went nibbling
At every door and window so bedeviling
The weather vane that wakened ghosts ran riot
Knowing neither which way to heaven nor which
To hell. Their cold and bristling exhalations 
Struck all they touched with frost, and passing by
Turned raincoats inside out. Shutters banged
And barn doors howled on swung and worried hinges;
Roof shingles clamored for a hold. The owl
Swallowed the mouse—the whiskers first and then
The whip of tail. Its yellow eyes surveyed
The farm yard’s squalor as the cat went dripping
Like licorice through the split and missing teeth
Of hemlock planks. That was the night to close
The bulkhead lest the cellar’s belly fill
With leaves and rain. Some thought the dish and spoon
Might finally run away and others, with
The mortise cracking in the attic, thought
The house elves, who steal from our kitchens,
Tapped back in place the oaken pegs worked loose
By the wind and weather. They’re the elves who snatch
A tea-leaf from the cupboard, so little
That you or I would never notice, steeped
Where dewdrops gather on the rosebud’s lip—
So slight a cup!—a hummingbird in turn
Might rob the petal if they’re quick enough.
I’ve seen it done. But none went out that night
Who needn’t go. There was only just
Myself, a wide-eyed girl, who danced with Dogwood,
Larch and Sugar Maple. I was passed
From each to each with little pirouettes.
They lightly held my hand above my head;
And while I spun I lifted up the hem
Of my pajamas just the way a Lady
Might hold the corner of her gown while dancing.
It airily tumbled as I hopped and skipped.
My heels made spirals, my toes made ringlets, round 
And round I went. How grown and ladylike
I felt! I nodded graciously and bowed
And curtsied. They kept their rugged rhythm.
They thumped their hollow trunks and clapped their sticks
And with their sticks made melodies.
                              The forest,
Had there been anyone to wander by, 
Would have seemed to them to bend and sway
According to the weather. A gale
Of leaves and then another just before
The lightning crackled in the understory
And stood my hair on end. The dancing faltered.
I lifted my pajamas to my knees
And scurried to my blanket. Here and there
A raindrop stamped the earth with a flowering splash
Of dust and water. Then, as if decided
To pay no mind, a Honey-locust nudged me
To dance some more. But just like that the lightning
Struck like a thistle’s lash across the sky 
And turned the bowl of water upside down.
The rain fell down in sheets.
                              'No!’ I cried.
‘No! Take me home!’ The forest pricked and pinched me.
‘Let me go!’ I cried.
                              I tried to hide.
I pulled my blanket tightly round my shoulders
And would have run away but stumbled—
The rolling acorns bruised my heels and needles
Poked between my toes. ‘I want to go—!“
But then stopped short of crying ‘—home!’. An Oak tree
Appeared, its hollow like a yawning mouth,
The vines of wild grape among its roots 
As though the old Oak trailed an ancient beard. 
The woods made way until the great tree stood giant-like
Above me. I held my blanket to my eyes
When with the thumb and finger of its branches
It picked me up by my pajamas (pinched
Between my shoulder blades). I kicked and flailed
Above its gaping hollow when straightaway
It dropped me. Down I fell into the maw
And down into the endless dark, falling and falling—
Myself a piece of autumn.
                        I closed my eyes
At first; but feeling only weightlessness
I slowly opened them again. I saw 
The tiniest light that seemed both far away
And close enough to touch. All else forgotten,
I reached. I almost touched before a moth
Took flight. It fluttered round me, through my fingers,
Flew away and back again before
I’d cupped my hands. And just as moths will do
It zigzagged fitfully until it landed.
How beautiful it was! The moth shown through
And through with light. Another fluttered round me
And then another. If I fell or floated
I couldn’t say. I turned and tumbled slowly
And held my hands out as the moths glittered, faery-like,
Between my fingers and then dragonflies
And even leaves, all lighted like the moths,
Joined me. I was like a little planet
And they the stars accompanying me through darkness—
The endless night.
                  And then I cried aloud!
I landed on my bed! The comforter
And pillows burst. The air above was filled 
With feathers just as if the moths, the dragonflies
And leaves had all along been angels. They’d scattered,
As suddenly perplexed as I was. 
                 Little
By little I began to hear again
The household sounds of open windows.
The pop and stutter of their hinges. The storm
Had passed me by. I watched the ghostly curtains
That neither came nor went. They moved in moonlight
And moonlight glittered on the floor. I went
Barefooted where the rainfall pooled and drew
A chair behind me. 
                  Still not tall enough,
I stood on tip-toes once again to reach
The window latch. A trailing gusts of rain
Confused the glass. I thought I saw the Hemlocks,
If only through the momentary blur.
I thought they bobbed and sunk into the earth
Once more. 
      Needles were between my toes
And there were acorns in my bed. I picked
A cocklebur out of my sheets and here
And there were petals slipping from my hair.


By me, Patrick Gillespie | July 11th 2022