September. Yellow tickseed has overtaken chicory in roadside ditches. Goldfinches are fixing to switch to olive plumage. To me, it’s seemed like September since mid-July, when Walmart swapped beach towels and grill tools for back-to-school notebooks and gel pens.
School supplies remind me of waiting at the bus stop the day after Labor Day, dressed in long sleeves and wide-wale corduroy, gripping my brand-new plaid bookbag. It was probably ninety-three degrees when the bus dropped me off in the afternoon, and Mama was in the kitchen canning tomatoes, but the season had shifted. I’d have my first homework assignment: write three paragraphs on how I spent my summer vacation.
My paper was the same every year. I did nothing. I went nowhere. We had a huge garden and raised hogs. You didn’t traipse off and leave crops and livestock. Actually, I spent my summers reading books, writing stories, and dreaming up stunts that got myself and my weak-minded cousins in trouble.
But I never wrote about that. Or about going to the county fair (summer highlight). Or sipping grape Kool-Aid while reading the Classic comic version of “The Tinderbox” under my uncle’s weeping willow. Or rolling down the hill just to get silly-dizzy and grass-itchy.
I never wrote about the time I visited my Maryland cousins, who lived close enough to a golf course to sell cold drinks pulled in a wagon to thirsty golfers. I had the bright idea to collect stray golf balls and sell them. Unfortunately, I didn’t know a golf ball stuck in a sand trap from one sitting on the green. Players were not happy.
Somehow, I didn’t think those kid-stuff stories were worth telling. Now I’m old and grumpy and if anyone asks me if I had a nice summer, I want to say, “What’s the deal about summer? Does anyone ever ask if you had a nice fall? Or how was your winter?” No, we’re only interested in summer, a three-month break from school and (some) work, a time of being outside.
You’d never guess it’s summer in our neighborhood. There is not a child to be seen. They don’t ride bikes. They don’t play in their yards. They don’t dream up schemes that will land them in hot water. Where are all those children of summer? Holed up in the house, glued to screens. We stayed outside from morning till after supper, reluctantly coming in to have our heads checked for ticks, to wash our feet, then go to bed. Most of us would have to be chloroformed to stay indoors.
People don’t realize, but by the 1920s, after seventy years of industrialism, railroads, and smokestacks, experts worried about lack of sunlight on urban populations. In 1929, the National Carbide Company published a “Sunshine Map” that showed hours of possible sunlight in fifty cities. Reports made dire observations, such as “There was little hope of robust light in Detroit.”
According to the traditional Navaho calendar, the yellow of summer will soon meet the white of winter, and will turn its back on us. Until then, we have September’s golden days to enjoy and inspire us. Helen Bevington noted in her 1961 book, When Found, Make a Verse of, that “Longfellow liked the month of September. Schiller needed the smell of rotten apples about him to make a poem.”
As for me, I need new school supplies and a new resolution to work one day a week in the library of nearby University of Mary Washington. Yesterday I strode purposefully across the sun-drenched campus wearing my brand-new backpack, among robust students who make me feel less old and grumpy, and wrote a found poem.
In case anyone asks, I’m planning on having a great fall.
“Where Is the Sun Today?”
Take an “s” walk.
See how many things you can find that begin with an “s.”
The stars are always up in the sky.
Very dim light from stars is lost.
The sun is really a shining star.
The sun is a big, big place!
The nicest thing about summer is how it gets people outdoors.
If you are confused about daylight,
select an upper window with a clear view.
You will be rewarded with a picture.
Note: Found poems use words from books or other printed materials. My sources were More Research Ideas for Young Scientists (1961) and Compton’s Precyclopedia, Vol. 14 (1977).