From The Four Seasons
In Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Spring” the first line is “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring.”
Today it’s so warm, I chat with Ben and say “this campus is barely dressed.”
I’ve started fermenting things in my house. Cabbage with hibiscus, honey wine with hops and thymes, asparagus with mustard seeds. Hemoglobin beet kvass that burps when I pull off its lid to check its sour. It’s so spring in my apartment, the windows open, inviting wild spores to constant dinner. Microscopic reapers wreak havoc on what I plan to lunch on.
Some say the human obsession with fermented food is that we long to savor something literally dead and rotten which still nourishes us and gives us life. And so for those who love to be alive, no wonder we prefer Paradiso to the other poems in Dante’s insane trilogy.
I mean everybody is dead in Paradiso too.
I watch someone spit on a tree and think that person has just exhumed their innermost allies.
I hardly ever spit but once I spat on the sidewalk and a wizened hippie chastised me: “spit on the street, people sleep on the sidewalks.”
Nothing is so beautiful as the small intestine, miles of gross organ coiled into a nectarine.
I’m reading a book about Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring because I am calling it springtime and writing a poem called “Spring.” I haven’t listened to Rite of Spring for so long, like almost twenty years, and what I really remember about it, besides that it is a big avant garde modernist work whose debut in Paris started riots, is that it is noisy, dissonant, and not good to play when you’re trying to go to sleep for instance.
I didn’t remember ever knowing for instance that the “rite” in Rite of Spring is a collectively orchestrated torture of a young woman who is forced to dance herself to death.
The opening pipes, which are called dudki in Russian, apparently reference a common motif in Russian folk tales, where an Orpheus-like primitive person charms a circle of wild beasts with his great piping. In Rite of Spring, the wild animals are bears, reflecting the Slavic tradition that bears were the real ancestors of modern humans.
Bad breath too is the funk of what’s feasting inside you so splendidly.
The best holidays in Spring are Easter and 4/20. The worst holidays in Spring are St. Patrick’s Day and President’s Day.
I walked by a puddle of liquid shit on the sidewalk. It spread across the brick of a building and pooled below. My first thought was “chocolate?” So hopeful, so “spring.”
It looked sort of like this bad milkshake you got from Wendy’s called a “Frosty.”
I went to New York for a week and found it was really not very Spring there.
When I showed up at The Shanty for martinis, slipping on the slush from the Uber to the door, Ben said you are so winter ready.
My friends in New York always ask me if I will move there it is so sweet of them, but no. When we’re together, we constantly talk about the next time we’ll see each other. Like discussing what to have for dinner while you’re still eating lunch.
There is nothing so beautiful as taking a week off between jobs to see your friends and drink until late and walk around the Met by yourself looking at erotic drawings on fermentation crocks, and terra cotta plates showing a teenager straddling a rooster, and Thomas Hovenden’s The Last Moments of John Brown and eating goulash on a cold day at the Budapest Café, drinking Egri Bikaver before coffee. Nothing is so ugly as whatever is not these things.
Sometimes I think money is wasted on the rich, who mostly live a life of eternal coveting and lamentation. I hate myself for thinking this and then don’t care.
I was relieved and also dismayed to find out that my phone is just as disoriented at 14th and Broadway as I am in my body there.
14th and Broadway in Oakland is really different. For a while it was pretty spring there.
My last night in New York Diana gave me a spliff when we left the bar. I got so high, walking the twenty blocks back to where I was staying. I’m sure I walked fine but internally reeled, veered, listening to Vivaldi’s Spring at full volume watching all the walkers by walk by. I had to stop along the way and let the strings finish, deep freezing breaths of vernal promise of forever life.
After church my grandma would take us to Wendy’s to get “Frosties.” It was sort of our wage for surviving the tedium of church. Usually she drove my great aunt Eunice, who was medicalized into remote islandness. The only time I ever saw a flicker through lithium was when she was handed a big icy “Frosty” after church. She would lick the wooden spoon and sort of smile.
Eliana and I have tea and joke about having become such hippies. I tell her I was such a punk and now I am such a hippie and we laugh. When I get home I tend to a bunch of burbling crocks of delicious rotting vegetables.
Nothing is so spring as “spring break” I guess. Except maybe taking a long walk through the park the last days of February. Everything is opening up, drooping and dripping saccharine goo in the feral grass, drunk bugs mosh in fertilizing air around pods and tendrils. All these stamens everywhere, all these tendrils. The sex is all you can smell, no wonder it’s a time for so many anniversaries.
Although I am reminded that much of the sex of spring break is actually quite horrifying.
In his book The Seasons, James Thomson has a line like, “the juicy groves put forth their buds.”
Carly Rae Jepsen has a line like, “dream about me and all that we can do with this emotion.”
Daniel and I ate a little weed caramel and went to see a night of Bach pieces at a church in Berkeley. During the first movement of the third Brandenburg Concerto, a dog started barking outside, so loudly it became part of the the music. The dog did okay.
At the break, Daniel said to me, “do you realize you are never going to have glaucoma?” It’s true, we were stoned.
“Glaucoma” literally means “gray-eyed” it is an epithet Homer uses to describe Athena.
Actually, glaukos is not “gray” exactly. Plato defines it as white mixed with dark blue to make a light blue. Homer uses it as an epithet for Athena’s eyes but also the sea. Typically, when it was used to describe the color of eyes, it meant “not dark.” Empedocles thought people with glaukos colored eyes saw badly during the day. Proverbially, men with light eyes were “effeminate” and weak. Eleanor Irwin, who wrote a whole book about colors in Greek, concludes that “glaukos is indefinite in hue, light in value, and probably carries the association of “gleaming.”
David writes me, “Glaukos is a very mysterious word. I think of it as the light effect on the fuzz of olives, or the gleam of the moon on the eyes of an owl that's turning its head. Both at once.”
So now of course I want to make a list of all the things I think are like glaukos but all I can think of is the cloud tornado in the middle of a martini. I write this at six in the morning, martini time in the far distance.
When I was a kid my eyes were blue, then they became green, and now I can’t see them anymore maybe you can tell me?
It’s hard to tell listening to Rite of Spring that it’s even about Spring. But Stravinsky opens the libretto by writing “it represents pagan Russia and is unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring. It has no plot.” Later, after its infamous debut, one of his sympathetic critics wrote, “this is Spring seen from the inside, with its violence, its spasms, and its fissions.”
Nobody really agrees about what happened that spring night in 1913. Some say you couldn’t hear the orchestra over the hisses. Some say it was beautiful, audible, powerful, life-changing. Some say people arranged to fight duels the next day. Almost everybody agrees that the violence of Rite of Spring, the picture of Spring from the inside, is a symptom of a world which was imminently dying.
It’s so “poetry war” to fight a duel about a concert.
Of course it did die soon after, that world.
I try to listen to Rite of Spring on my walk to the train but keep giving myself the morning gift of listening to “Work,” a beautiful new song by Rihanna that can’t really be about work because nothing is less beautiful than work and right now almost nothing is more beautiful than “Work” so I make it my aubade and I fucking relish it.
In it she sings “no bother touch me in a crisis.”
Brandon Brown is the author of five books of poetry and several chapbooks, as well as three collaborative volumes of Christmas poems with J. Gordon Faylor, most recently The Cloth Bag. His poems and prose have recently appeared in Art in America, Open Space, Fanzine, Art Practical, New American Writing, The Poetry Project Newsletter, and Best American Experimental Writing. His newest full-length book is The Four Seasons (Wonder, 2018). He lives in El Cerrito, California.
The above has been excerpted from Brandon Brown's forthcoming The Four Seasons (Wonder).