Monday, May 17, 2010

Knoxville: Summer, 1915

The other night, feeling warm and dreamy, Madeleine and I sat on the floor next to Charlotte’s bed and read James Agee’s beautiful prose about an evening of his childhood. It left us wanting summer.

Supper was at six and was over at half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted at the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out. The children ran out first hell bent and yelling those names by which they were known; then the fathers sank out leisurely in crossed suspenders, their collars removed and their necks looking tall and shy. The mothers stayed back in the kitchen washing and drying, putting things away, recrossing their traceless footsteps like the lifetime journeys of bees, measuring out the dry cocoa for breakfast. When they came out they had taken off their aprons and their skirts were dampened and they sat in rockers on their porches quietly.

Agee describes the sound of locusts and crickets:

Meantime from low in the dark, just outside the swaying horizons of the hoses, conveying always grass in the damp of dew and its strong green-black smear of smell, the regular yet spaced noises of the crickets, each a sweet cold silver noise three-noted, like the slipping each time of three matched links of a small chain.

And then my favorite part...

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled
the hose.
Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes.
Content, silver, like peeps of light, each cricket makes his comment
over and over in the drowned grass.
A cold toad thumpily flouders.
Within the edges of damp shadows of side yards are hovering children
nearly sick with joy of fear, who watch the unguarding of a
telephone pole.
Around white carbon corner lamps bugs of all sizes are lifted elliptic,
solar systems. Big hardshells bruise themselves, assailant: he is
fallen on his back, legs squiggling.
Parents on porches: rock and rock: From damp strings morning
glories: hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once
enchants my eardrums.

We love to sit out by our fire bowl on summer nights and we also sometimes spread blankets out on the grass under our great oak tree.

By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night.

Madeleine was very nearly asleep by the end.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

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