You, music of my late years, I am called
By a sound and color which are more and more perfect.
Do not die out, fire. Enter my dreams, love.
Be young forever, seasons of the earth.
--Czeslaw Milosz, "Winter"
A short time ago I watched my dog Wendell creeping through the shadows at the park. He paused and listened to what he did not know was a train, the nice rhythm of the darkness coming down, the city murmuring at some safe distance. What was he hearing? Big water, perhaps, moving through someplace where another race of dogs lived with its secrets and old heroic stories.
I’m girding myself for the first plodding steps into September, the calendar rolling resolutely into the black teeth of winter. Soon enough the windows will be shut up and the house will smell like a wet blanket baking, heat limbering up in the old radiators. And out there somewhere, sprawled behind me in the vacuum of another August completing its free fall, are the embers of one of the most magical summers I can ever recall: I feel like I spent three months on my back in the cool grass, staring up into a sky that was intent on blasting off every star in its arsenal. From time to time there would be a brief pause in the fireworks and I’d be stunned by the appearance of a full moon –exactly like the one that’s hanging outside my window as I type these words. It was a summer with a first-rate soundtrack, and a fat scrapbook full of Kodachrome snapshots and painted postcards to remember it by.
There was sadness, too, enough to keep things in perspective and give the sweetness the punch of recognition and wonder that all sweetness deserves.
The wading pool in the park up the street has been drained now, and every morning and late afternoon the gaggle of neighborhood kids trudges to and from the school bus stop.
The cicadas are almost done; death, I suppose, is the Arizona they fly off to for the winter. They burn down entire villages every autumn and flee to angel dusks. Soon enough the shuddering ghost-keening of geese evacuating across the moon and disappearing into the clouds.
It was on a night like this, somewhere across the world and a long time ago, that I watched as a shirtless man leaned back and coughed fire into the fog. He would swish his canteen of gasoline and nudge with his boot the tin cup at his feet. "It costs money!" he shouted. "Don't just look!"
"How long can a man possibly breathe fire?" a bored Frenchman asked his date. "There must be other things as well. It is the same thing every night."
"Perhaps that is what gives it the power it has," the woman said. "The fact that there is nothing more, that this is all he has: just the fire, just the instant, repeated again and again. The poor man is clearly dying. Give him ten francs."
Tonight, though, I feel like I still have pockets full of that summer magic, and Wendell and I are fixing to go for a ramble and sprinkle some of that leftover fairy dust all over the neighborhood.