March: One old proverb, one bad joke

What do we always think about when March comes around? I don’t mean the rain; that’s a given: the endless undulating succession of sunny days, thundershowers and soft rain that first raises and then washes away our hope for Spring. Not that. What I can’t stop thinking about are the things that stuck to my Velcro mind when I was a kid.

First of course, there’s the old vaudeville question “what day of the year is a command to go forward?” The answer, of course, is “March 4th”. Da dum! I used to torment my sister Jean with this one. Her birthday was March 4th and since she was my little sister, she (mistakenly, I assured my mother) saw everything I said to her as some form of teasing. In retrospect, it probably was.

Then there’s the old proverb. You know; the one that definitely smells like a stack of nineteenth century Farmers’ Almanacs: “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. The Japanese (of course, you all know this) would say “sangatsu no raion (3月のライオン)”, but I seldom say that myself. In fact, as a card-carrying Leo, I’m skeptical about this one because Leos are all about sun, brightness, warmth, light and all the other good things that the month of March notably lacks.

Other months have a better time of it. For example, unlike March, the month of April can lay claim to a complex and edgy literary ancestry: TS Eliot’s “The Wasteland” opens with “April is the cruelest month…” Now, that’s a role a month can really sink its teeth into! But, more about that next month.

So, there you have it. March in a nutshell: a bad joke, a hoary proverb and weather you would only wish on the US Congress.

And yet: March bears within it the beginning of Spring, and all the joy we feel at the birth of new leaves that erupt overnight from sharp little green buds. No other month is so full of life and beauty, moving in a punctuated dance from potential to actuality. No other month reminds us, almost simultaneously, of the gloom of Winter and the promise of Summer.

I wrote this poem one day when I was watching the sun and rain fall simultaneously on the West Hills and trying to assess how wet I’d get if I hiked to the Pittock Mansion. As it turned out, it was sunny and warm the whole way.
It often is.

Spring Again

Spring arrives; with it,
a seasonal disregard
for the worst-case scenario,
as days unwind and my blessings
always outweigh my burdens.

Astarte’s crescent arcs across
the April night.
Cherry trees shiver, shake themselves;
petals floating past on Easter air.
Surviving winter pansies
glare at the world
from their altar on my terrace.

It’s a new world again;
right here, right now, every second
flooded with God’s green beauty.
There’s just no time to worry
about tomorrow.

February – Valentine’s Day? Really?

But how did it all begin? The hearts, the candy, the flowers and, worst of all, the gooey rhymes about roses and violets.

The impulse to romantic love seems universal. And being human, once we have the impulse, we need to express it. Virtually every culture in the world has some sort of festival of romantic love and the tradition goes back for centuries. Predictably, the Islamic countries ban such things, but the ban itself suggests the tradition exists in their culture as well.

There are some edgy parts of the tradition. Not everyone has a valentine, or is necessarily happy about the one they have. St. Valentine was a Christian martyr, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in Chicago (where else?) on (wait for it…..) Valentine’s Day.

Competition and jealousy are more likely to rear their ugly heads on Valentine’s than at any other time, except for the reading of a rich uncle’s will.

(Viola’s Valentine)

The unlikeliest people (lawyers and accountants, for example) fall in love and have agonies of the heart, just like the rest of us. One of Jackson Brown’s great tongue-in-cheek songs was “Lawyers in Love”. And accountants can apparently suffer for love as well. Here’s an image I found on the conference room white board of a regional CPA firm.

(Heart in a Vice)

Not sure I want this person working on my tax return.

Well, I have a Valentine, and I hope you do too. Do something caring and romantic for them, and not just on February 14th

Now here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: this month’s poem. I wrote it for those taking those first risky steps towards having a Valentine.


Caught in bare branches,
the full moon ceased its struggling
and watched.

Between past and future,
we ceased our struggling
and kissed.

With a relieved yes,
the moon rose free
and went about his business.

The Cruelest Month – April

April, according to TS Eliot’s opening lines from ‘The Wasteland’, is the cruelest month. Really? Maybe in England, but not here in Portland.

It’s no wonder Eliot had bad feelings about April. The City of London lies at 51 degrees; the same longitude as Calgary. Contrast that with Portland, which sits at a balmy 45 degrees of longitude (equivalent to Genoa),

Those 6+ degrees make a world of difference. April in Portland brings a riot of sun, showers, and late blooming spring plants. Jolly old England is still mired in mud season and waiting for the lilacs to bloom.

And anyway, let’s face it: where would you rather be for spring? Genoa or Calgary?

This isn’t an oblique form of literary criticism; Eliot was working with the imagery he had available, which is what all poets do. But I wonder what he would have written about spring if he lived in Honolulu. Probably nothing. There are no seasons there.

Somehow, I don’t think anyone could write edgy verses about the weather in a tropical climate. In fact, I can’t really think of any powerful poetry that has come out of a tropical climate. Everything is just too coconut/grass skirt cute to bear up under a complex and powerful climate image.

Anyway, back to the weather in Portland. For me, the arrival of spring is my favorite time of year. March gets our hopes up, as the neighborhoods explode with blooms. By April we’ve had a few warm sunny days, the grass is unbearably green, and we’re intoxicated with the promise of more to come.

The dramatic changes of our seasons have been a driving force in the religious imagery of all cultures, but perhaps more so in Christian cultures than in any other. And, in every religion, the cycle of prayers and religious holidays runs parallel to the seasons.

Some of the most complicated and powerful spiritual imagery is rooted in nature. And maybe no religious imagery is more powerful than that of Easter. The essence of the season of spring is expressed in the image of Easter and the idea of resurrection.

This imagery of a resurrection can extend to expressing the essence of all new beginnings and startings over, including the romantic kind.

Here’s something I wrote while walking down the street, thinking about it all and enveloped by a warm snowstorm of cherry blossoms.

Passion Play

Good Friday

Cherry petals drifted past, unnoticed,
floated silently on swirls
of warm night Easter air,
stirred by passing cars and late night walkers
while we kissed; only half-aware,
and open –for a moment–
to each other.

With careful hands,
You laid your flowers down and waved goodbye;
taking yourself, the moment,
the soft feel of your lips on mine;
all of them gone with you.

Easter Sunday

Cherry petals drifting past, unnoticed,
lift silently on swirls
of late-day Easter air,
stirred by passing cars and Sunday walkers
while I stand, half-aware
trying to recall –for one clear moment–
your stunned warmth.

With careful shovel
I open up the earth, for just a moment,
carefully planting your blue-eyed gift;
and some part of you is resurrected
and returns.