Monday, November 6, 2006


We're into the new month of November and those unfortunate enough to have TVs turned on regularly know this time as the pre-election glut. An endless parade of smug, finger-pointing pronouncements on unworthy opponents, a hall of shame, a barrage of bs -- call it what you will, it gives this lovely time of year the bad odor of spoiled fish, of something rotten in the state.

Around here, the other noticeable bad odor comes from the onslaught of bs that has to be committed to paper for the sake of the annual academic job market, an opportunity to dream a host of "what ifs" and "what I'd teach"s that will prove more evanescent than what the kids were for Halloween -- the claims fade away as masks tried on, robes assumed for the space of an afternoon when the beguiling position seemed tangible as a realizable future.

All of which is devoutly to be mourned, as this season is the best of them all, for my money, and shouldn't be traduced with such a litany of bad faith and presumptuous assertions. No, it's a time for savoring that late sun, for looking at the twinges of color in a stand of trees showing finely etched branches in a light that glows more than shines, for registering the shadows of bare branches cast long and scrawling on pavements swept with driven leaves. It's a time for cognac, for strong coffee, for full-bodied reds, for a lingering affection for, to use Yeats' ringing phrase, "whatever is begotten, born, and dies."

"It is the blight man was born for/ It is Margaret you mourn for," Hopkins told little Margaret when she cried over fallen leaves, and hearing an old friend reflect that at 50something he might only have 30 or so more falls to count certainly gives resonance to Hopkins' insight. Of course, the thought of how many more job markets or elections one must endure could indeed invite a thought of Hamlet's words to Horatio: "in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,/ To tell my story." Stretched on the rack of darkening days, knowing the seed of death is in them, but still thinking there's time yet for whatever we want to fill it with: a story that will redeem the suffering of inarticulate pangs. It's the promise of fall which, as I age, seems to speak less and less of final resting places but rather, stealing spring's rightful voice of renewal, intones a warm earth sound, a loam-knowing, an abiding time, of roots more than of branches.

I think it has to do with the love of time, of what "the fall" has always meant as the come-down, the return to realities, the ebb of summer's flood, the "long, withdrawing roar" of whatever revel the long, heated nights seemed to call for. Maybe I've always loved it, or maybe it has to do with the succession of "times" when I recall the fall -- living near the Delaware River in New Castle, near the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, near Lake Carnegie and the Raritan canal in Princeton, crossing and re-crossing the Hudson on the Tappan Zee since the '90s -- as a chain of ripened days, a harvest yield, the squirrel's full granary. "November has tied me to an old dead tree/ Get word to April to rescue me," Tom Waits sings, and I give much credit to the sentiment, but for now I want songs celebrating the dark season, the clouds, the sere, the frost.

Do you remember only happy days
Full of flaming Junes and summer holidays

Or do you remember those stormy Novembers
When we walked in the wind and the rain?

--Ray Davies, 1975

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