The Late Wisconsin Spring

By John Koethe b. 1945 John Koethe
Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze   
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves   
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.   
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds   
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,   
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.   
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.   
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;   
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard.   
When some men came to tear down the garage across the way   
The light was still clear, but the salt intoxication   
Was already dissipating into the atmosphere of constant day   
April brings, between the isolation and the flowers.   
Now the clouds are lighter, the branches are frosted green,   
And suddenly the season that had seemed so tentative before   
Becomes immediate, so clear the heart breaks and the vibrant   
Air is laced with crystal wires leading back from hell.   
Only the distraction, and the exaggerated sense of care   
Here at the heart of spring—all year long these feelings
Alternately wither and bloom, while a dense abstraction   
Hides them. But now the mental dance of solitude resumes,   
And life seems smaller, placed against the background   
Of this story with the empty, moral quality of an expansive   
Gesture made up out of trees and clouds and air.

The loneliness comes and goes, but the blue holds,   
Permeating the early leaves that flutter in the sunlight   
As the air dances up and down the street. Some kids yell.   
A white dog rolls over on the grass and barks once. And   
Although the incidents vary and the principal figures change,   
Once established, the essential tone and character of a season   
Stays inwardly the same day after day, like a person’s.   
The clouds are frantic. Shadows sweep across the lawn   
And up the side of the house. A dappled sky, a mild blue   
Watercolor light that floats the tense particulars away   
As the distraction starts. Spring here is at first so wary,   
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,   
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,   
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,   
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,   
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight   
Of another city, in a past which has almost faded into heaven.   
And even though memory always gives back so much more of   
What was there than the mind initially thought it could hold,   
Where will the separation and the ache between the isolated   
Moments go when summer comes and turns this all into a garden?   
Spring here is too subdued: the air is clear with anticipation,   
But its real strength lies in the quiet tension of isolation   
And living patiently, without atonement or regret,
In the eternity of the plain moments, the nest of care   
—Until suddenly, all alone, the mind is lifted upward into   
Light and air and the nothingness of the sky,   
Held there in that vacant, circumstantial blue until,
In the vehemence of a landscape where all the colors disappear,   
The quiet absolution of the spirit quickens into fact,   
And then, into death. But the wind is cool.   
The buds are starting to open on the trees.
Somewhere up in the sky an airplane drones.

John Koethe, “The Late Wisconsin Spring” from North Point North: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by John Koethe. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: North Point North: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2002)

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Poet John Koethe b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Time & Brevity, Nature, Spring, Living, Landscapes & Pastorals

 John  Koethe

Biography

The author of several collections of poetry, including North Point North: New and Selected (2002), Ninety-fifth Street (2009), and ROTC Kills (2012), John Koethe also publishes and teaches philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of language. Koethe began writing poetry as an undergraduate at Princeton University and received his PhD from Harvard.

Critic Andrew Yaphe calls Koethe “one of our foremost Romantic poets, an inheritor . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Nature, Spring, Living, Landscapes & Pastorals

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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