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The Second Half of Summer
A compendium of August
When I think of August I think heavy.
Humidity. Heavy headed sunflowers. Wet bathing suits flung onto a fence to dry.
These are the dog days, when summer is at its midway point. The maples and oaks are still green—they haven’t begun to gold, though they will soon.
What am I ready to lose in this advancing summer? Audre Lorde asks in her poem ‘Seasoning’:
As the days that seemed long
grow shorter and shorter
I want to chew up time
until every moment expands
in an emotional mathematic
tht includes the smell and texture
of every similar instant since I was born.
It’s during this leg of summer when I begin feeling desperate, my claws in the days, wishing for them to last. I stop looking at the calendar, start telling time by the flowers and trees (velvety mallow, goldsturm, summer lilac, mountain ash), knowing that soon we’ll have less of these days ahead. I’ve noticed my pace has slowed; when I’m out for a walk, I’m in no hurry, admiring the way the summer sun ray shifts through a suspicious tree1 , the sour cherries gleaming on fruit market stalls, while the theremin buzz of cicadas scratch the air. (Who was it that despised poems that mention cicadas?)
In Margaret Atwood’s Dearly, she describes “the piercing one-note of a jackhammer, vibrating like a slow bolt of lightning”:
This is it, time is short, death is near, but first,
first, first, first
in the hot sun, searing, all day long,
in a month that has no name:
this annoying noise of love. This maddening racket.
Then there’s Kimiko Hahn’s Reckless Sonnet No. 8:
August is an easy month to get lost in, with its mirrored hallways of light, tangles of trumpet vine. I remember my grandparents backyard during the second half of summer: the bleached grass, Rose of Sharon bushes tall as statues and ornate like women wearing jewels, bees working their way from flower to flower, disappearing into the pink trenches then reemerging, pollen-covered astronauts.
The neighbour, a widow in her nineties, would sun on her patio in a nightgown, occasionally ambling to her garden to remove a dud tomato from the stalk, or pull a weed out by the roots. From our vantage, her head was mostly obscured by hollyhock. She was content to sit and watch the clouds, bask in the sun. This woman barely possessed the stamina to ascend her stairs (in fact, if memory serves, she climbed on all fours), but regardless, she would summon us to the chainlink fence, on her tip toes, arms full of cucumber and zucchini, explaining in her thick Polish accent that she wanted to share, for August is also a month of excess.
August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun, Mary Oliver writes in her poem ‘The Pond’.
In August the sun is heavy-handed, a weapon, a drug.
Or, as Carol Frost puts it, “an indistinct moon”. This month is bookended by two supermoons, which won’t happen again until January 2037. I picture these moons as quotations around the perfect sentence of August. The Perseid meteor shower will peak on August 11th, 12th and 13th, with 90 meteors falling per hour. Stars are dropping thick as stones2. But enough about darkness. The days are already growing shorter. I want to focus on the light.
Tove Jansson describes August as the border between summer and autumn—it is the most beautiful month I know.
Lisel Mueller writes:
in summer I step outside
and the sky opens
and pours itself into me
as if I were a saint
about to die.
Jane Hirshfield feels lucky, blessed, her ‘August Day’ takes the shape of a dozen ripening fruit trees, a curtain of pole beans, a thicket of berries. It takes the shape of a dozen empty hours. Nikki Giovanni remembers childhood summers in Knoxville, where one could be warm all the time not only when you go to bed and sleep. And how many of Louise Glück’s poems capture the beauty and terror of these thirty-one days?
I’ll end it here, with a simple line from Barbara Ras’ poem, You Can’t Have It All:
when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so
Because what more can be said?
Noon Walk on the Asylum Lawn, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Anne Sexton
Stars over the Dordogne, Sylvia Plath