Cherry Blossoms Blowing In Wet, Blowing Snow
In all the farewells in all the airports in all the profane dawns.
In the Fiat with no documents on the road to Madrid. At the
Corrida. In the Lope de Vega, the Annalena, the Jerome. In time
past, time lost, time yet to pass. In poetry. In watery deserts, on
arid seas, between desserts and seas. In sickness and in health. In
pain and in the celebration of pain. In the delivery room. In the
garden. In the hammock under the aspen. In all the emergencies. In
the waterfall. In toleration. In retaliation. In rhyme. Among cherry
blossoms blowing in wet, blowing snow, weren’t we something?
- by James Galvin
There are lots of reasons to dislike this poem, but it’s beautiful, and that is enough to overcome the rest. Any editor worthy of a blue pencil would delete the second blowoing in second blowing in the title, and in the final line. Any person with sober judgment would mock the odd typography. It doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t follow a traditional form, and it is all a set up for the zinger of the final three words.
A better critic would condemn it, but I love it.
Let’s jump right into those final three words, okay? When I first read them, I thought they were heartbreaking – the past tense hinting of a former lover wistfully looking at happier times. But, on rereading, I changed my view. The thought that stretches between the third and fourth lines –
past, time lost, time yet to pass.
– allows me a more optimistic view. There is time for this couple yet to pass. In sickness and in health – a reference to marriage. Children are involved. While retaliation is mentioned, so is toleration.
It all somehow fits. The episodic quality of looking over a life spent together matches the reality of how we (or at least James Galvin and I) gaze backward. We don’t remember the day-to-day existence, but we remember moments with astonishing detail. Galvin remembers driving a Fiat without documents, I vividly recall driving our first car – a Dodge Dart Swinger Special with a bullet hole in the windshield – from St. Louis to Columbia, and stopping at a long-gone Nickerson Farms on the way. But I can’t tell you what we had for dinner 3 nights ago.
The intrusion of the past tense in “weren’t we something” is not at all a statement that “we” are not something now. Instead, it is a recognition that those incidents in the past have changed us – “we” are not the same people we were in the Lope de Vega, or in the delivery room. It’s like our early selves are characters in a play that we can look back over, and see how it all leads to now. The upper Mississippi is not like the Mississippi at St. Louis, and the Mississippi at St. Louis is not like the Mississippi at New Orleans, but the Mississippi at New Orleans could look back at Minneapolis and New Orleans and say “wasn’t I something?”.
(You can purchase James Galvin’s poetry from your local independent bookstore, such as Rainy Day Books, or on the internet here. If you don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, you really should, and if you do it now, you can get my favorite calendar in the world.)