Almost the Spring I Feared the Most

It was really balmy here in Southeast Virginia a few weeks ago, and it made me a little bit nervous. Where I grew up, March was the trickiest month of the year. It really could “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.” In other words, March could be damn cold–cold to the bone. And God help you if you didn’t have shoes that could keep your feet warm or a coat that couldn’t keep the wind from blowing right through! The ice settled in your back, arms, and shins, and made a left turn into your consciousness.   

As a kid in Northern New Jersey, when we had the one-off day in late winter that felt like spring, I worried about the forsythia that bloomed popcorn yellow on Route 287 on my way to and from Rutgers-Newark and the crocuses that poked up through the snow. What would happen if all the plants and trees thought it was spring and bloomed unwittingly, only to have the frozen Alberta Clipper descend upon the land once again? Yes, I worried about that. Because back then, the seasons were much longer than they are now. Back then, a month was a very long time, a season: Forever. 

That spring of falsehoods never occurred in my younger years, but this year came close. It began to warm up in February. It got warmer and warmer. Soon, none of us at work were wearing our coats. We had sweaters, and what I now know to be a Southern phenomenon, the men in the office began to wear shorts and “tennis shoes.” In New Jersey, we called them “sneakers,” but I’ve gradually come around to the Southern way. (Although I will never say “buggy” when I mean “shopping cart.”)

The trees began to swell with buds, and my now beloved tulips, yes, all 20 of them, began to make a showing. 

April Fools have come and gone, and I will make these observations: Last year, I had variegated tulips–red, white, bright yellow. This year, they are all white, with the exception of one yellow tulip. Also, the trees that are usually the palest of greens and reds, are all a dull brown. 

I felt somewhat somber until this week: The cherry blossoms and the redbud trees are in bloom, peonies abound in their vivid multi-colored splendor, and yellow pollen coats the cars and the lining of my lungs. Fellow allergy sufferers, I feel your pain. Fellow optimists, Oh, God, what glorious days lay ahead! 

Street Scene – Boston, March 2015

Boston

Looking down 10 stories
from my hotel room
to a street canyon-ed by snow,

I watch  tiny figures
hurrying against the wind,
gripping collars, heads down. 

Only a homeless man,
a grey blanket wrapped
around him, 
moves slowly. 

I decide I need a smoke,
so I make my way down
to the street and the doorman
tells me it’s too cold to go out,
but he smiles as he says it. 

I huddle against the building
as the grey-blanked man 
approaches and  I hold out 
a cigarette – an offering.
He stops, and says, 
“I quit smoking in 1992.”

I pull a five dollar bill
out of my pocket and slip 
it into his hand–a hand
that’s brutally cold. 

We stand together and suddenly
I take one of his gloveless hands
between mine and begin warming
it up–and then the other hand. 

I ask him his name, and he replies:
Eugene.

Later that night
In a lovely restaurant,
as the snow fell silently,
Skirting the streetlights
in lacy gowns, 
I thought of my father, 
decades gone,
and the grey-blanked man.

My father’s name was 
Eugene, and I don’t think
he was ever warm
whatever he was missing

Stalked him and pushed him
into the ever-colder nights
with no more than a grey blanket
for his wandering soul.