August Ends Here

August 31, 2014

An agitation of the air
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
— “End of Summer”
Stanley Kunitz, 1905-2006
American poet

I was going to quote only the first two lines of Stanley Kunitz’s poem, as an epigraph, a signifier of change, ignoring some of the darker images, the references to “the unloved year,” “the iron door of the north clang[ing] open,” “the cruel wind.” But now I think I should just let it stand, a sigh for a period in my life that is now over.

The school year remains an organizing principle in my life, despite the fact that I have been out of the classroom for more than fifteen years and my daughter for six. The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is the hinge of my year. Time stops then. I move through the various activities focused only on the task or subject at hand — lecture, workshop, reading, meal. I begin conversations that get interrupted. I sit down to a library computer and find myself looking at a stranger’s Facebook page or Gmail in-box because she hasn’t logged out. During a class that bores me nearly senseless, I write the numbers 1 through 30 down my page, draw a bell at the bottom, and start crossing off the minutes as they tick by, like my friend Mary did in physics class in high school.

I stayed in Vermont for three days after the end of the conference, taking some time to look at the leaves and the light, think about where I’d been and where I might be going, as a writer, a reader, a wife and mother and friend. This morning I went to church for the first time all summer. We sang the Loud Boiling Test Tubes song.

August ends here. The iron door of the north beckons. Let’s get busy.

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