Her Memory Of The Picnic - Poem by Timothy Steele
To finger-sponge crust crumbs of fruit meringue
(Grass prickling through the blanket-tablecloth);
To climb the shading oak; to roll and hang
Inverted from a branch, as if a sloth;
And, after dropping neatly from the branch,
To pull a cup off of a tube of cups;
To grab a towel hurriedly to stanch
A soda which, on opening, erupts—
This was to be there thirty years ago,
A time constrained and hurtful, yet the day
Now has the settled warmth of a tableau.
Cloud stacks stand whitely, farmlands stretch away,
While her two brothers, in a make-believe
World Series, wave their baseball gloves and run
About the meadow as they stab and heave
Each other blinding high-flies in the sun.
Her uncle, to distract and to compose
An argument between his daughters, lies
Upon his back and eye-catchingly blows
Smoke rings which grayly loosen as they rise.
Her parents will divorce within a year,
But neither fully grasps the crisis yet:
They kneel and wrap leftovers and appear
Absorbed in a congenial tête-à-tête.
And she can walk the meadow at her ease,
Switching the tall grass with an osier wand;
Can hear the white-throats in the woods reprise
The long rich notes with which they correspond;
Can spread and duck through a barbed wire fence;
Can sit on, horseback style, a fallen tree
While grasshoppers perform leaps so immense
They seem beyond the claims of gravity.
This idyll will be, she intuits, brief;
The fabric of the family will tear.
Yet this can't change the bittersweet belief
That pleasure's no less true for being rare;
Nor can it wholly undermine her sense
That though well-muscled follies hound and press,
What counts most is her own intelligence,
However cramped by grief and loneliness.
And even now, a cousin waves to her
And blows a summons through a trumpet-fist:
She's off to pick wildflowers and would prefer
To do so with a comrade botanist.
Investigating where the field declines
To marsh land, the two harvest or reprieve
Pinks, yellow bells, and long-spurred columbines
Till voices call them that it's time to leave.
Regretting his departure from the wild,
A stuffed bear's carried off; the sun moves west;
Her aunt holds on her hip her youngest child;
The slushed ice is dumped brusquely from its chest.
Caps are screwed back on thermoses and jars;
Her two ball-playing brothers pool their talents,
Porting between them a hamper to the cars,
Their outer arms held straining out for balance.
And if the meadows grow more darkly gold,
As though withdrawing now from living fact,
The blanket brushed, she and her mother fold
It up in squares increasingly compact.
She shinnies out the oak to roll and swing
A last time underneath the limb's rough girth,
Then hangs by hands, and lets go, fathoming
The distance of her drop back to the earth.
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