Dusk descends unannounced on cicada summer nights, and shimmering streets are swept aside by autumn’s arrival. In an original poem, Lorna Crozier elegizes the fleeting, fading season
The end of summer is the beginning of gourds. How you love that word, gourds. Said so rarely except this time of year. Heavy with promise and gravitas, it lacks the playfulness of scarlet runner bean, the braggadocio of tomato, the bathroom humour of leek. The names you fell for on the seed packages could be constellations or the sobriquets of pirates: Northern Dipper, Crookneck, Calabash. The pumpkin is one of the species’ largest and most numinous. It begins to rise like an underground moon from its vines, where it has grown in secret all July and August. If you rap your knuckles on the rind, it makes you want to tell a joke: knock, knock. You see the grin long before you carve a face. Who’s there? Behind the gourd patch, hollyhocks stand taller than your father when he was proud and young. Sunflowers lean over the neighbours’ fence, the big blooms round as mirrors. Even if you stood on tiptoe and peered into them face to face, they wouldn’t answer any question you’re brave enough to ask. Everything left in the garden is reaching for the exact degree of ripeness before it darkens and decays. You waited until this morning to pick the blackberries in the tumble of shrubs across the road, but when you got there, someone had stripped them from the branches you could reach. None of your neighbours will admit to the greed, the thievery. Could it be strangers from another block? In these cooler mornings, could it be deer, their backs drenched with dew? Could it be raccoons, their fingers deft enough to petit point a sampler of the alphabet, to scissor a snowflake from a piece of foolscap, to braid a child’s hair for the first day of school? You imagine them at night high in the fir trees, beginning to prepare their brushes to paint the ferns and stems of grass with frost. You get a ladder from the shed to reach the blackberries from the higher branches, shred the skin of your forearms on the thorns as you lean forward, a little blood in the bucket. You can’t help but think of your mother’s berry pies – in her case, saskatoons. She’d put them on the windowsill to cool. In those days through the screen doors as you walked down the alley, you’d smell pastry baking in most of the houses on the block. You’d hear the milkman with his wooden box of bottles rattling as he climbed the step, and a boy slapping a newspaper against the door, canvas bag slung over his shoulder. You’d see him only in the summer when the dawn came soon enough to illuminate his route. Maybe he’s still walking past the house where you grew up, perfecting his toss. It’s just too dark at 6 a.m. to see him now that summer’s almost gone. Maybe your mother is taking your bathing suit and towel down from the line, a clothespin in her mouth. In the shed where you hang up the ladder, the shovel has taken a break from digging. The first tool listed in The Book of the Dead, it’s just finished with the potatoes. The shine has gone from its blade but it does good work, sinking into the dirt, breaking through then lifting into the light as if every task begins with burying and ends in resurrection. It never looks weary, but the umbrella does, the one that builds a pool of shade above the table on the deck. Its shoulders slope, its emerald green has paled in the heat. At its summit where the spokes meet, paper wasps started a nest and then abandoned it. It’s the size of a thimble for a gardener’s thumb grown thick from using secateurs to trim the chives, deadhead the phlox and Shasta daisies, prune the rosemary. If you dared to unwind the layers of the wasps’ nest and press them flat, there’d be enough paper, though grey and veined, to write a poem, a haiku perhaps about summer ending, a child running from the swimming pool to home.
Lorna Crozier’s latest book is The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things. She is watching summer come to an end at her home on Vancouver Island.