“Good morning, Ms. Marquetta, and how are you this fine day?”
“Good morning, Mr. Bellis. And what’s got you in such a fine mood today?”
“‘Tis spring, ‘tis spring! You can feel it in the air, yes? You can smell it. Look around! The American red-breasted robins keep us company—bless their pea-picking hearts—on these mornings, Ms. Marquetta—look at them all hopping about for their worms—whereas all winter we were alone: you, me, an occasional owl that sounds magnificent if it calls, yes, but also ominous, don’t you agree, Ms. Marquetta?”
“I’ve always thought of them as kind of magical, the owls…”
“Yes, that’s exactly right. I hear you and I agree. The owl is always magical—pick your culture—yet often, we must agree, a kind of dark magic, a magic of the night, of things normally unseen and perhaps not meant to be seen…but this spring, Ms. Marquetta, these robins, I can’t contain my joy…”
“I can see that, Mr. Bellis, like you’re a little singing robin yourself this morning.”
“Yes indeed. And I have a treat for you, Ms. Marquetta. For you. Not only have we turned the corner into spring, but today is the first day of April, and April is National Poetry Month—did you know that, Ms. Marquetta? A month for poetry. Sometimes, on fine mornings like this anyway, I feel like the whole year, every day, should be a time for poetry, but anyway I like this reminder, this declaration that we will commemorate poetry—we shall honor poetry—and that’s exactly what I’ve done this morning, my dear. I have a treat for you, on the dawn of National Poetry Month, a poem for my dear neighbor, a poem of spring, Ms. Marquetta, a poem for this very day. A poem for you. It’s called “Spring” and it is penned by the poetess—just listen to the poetry of her name, even—Edna St. Vincent Millay. It goes like this,” he said, and then he recited to me:
“To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”
And his gaze fell to the ground, where the snowdrops were starting to poke up right along the edge of the house. Yes, I had to admit he was right that spring was coming, and it had obviously put him in a dandy mood, at first at least, but there was something unnerving about it to me. Y’know, sometimes someone’s so chipper that you feel like you kinda have to balance them out by being a little negative, a little grounded realism to their high-flyin’ idealism, does that ever happen to you? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe I hadn’t slept well … or maybe his poem rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, what’s he trying to say? I hear stuff about beauty and my ears kind of perk up, but didn’t he say, “Beauty is not enough”? What does that mean? I just wonder what he’s really trying to say, and I guess I was just a little annoyed that he wouldn’t just say something, rather than telling me a poem, someone else’s poem. I mean, I heard it well enough: spring and life coming back – I can see the snowdrops as well as he can – but listen, that’s bullshit that there’s no death. We die. Period. And he knows that. And he knows that matters to me so I don’t know who he thinks he is when he knows how I’ve suffered and for him to say with all his robin cheer and springy poetry that there’s no death? There is death alright. The important part is the maggots, the decomposing bodies, our deaths damn it all, our dead bodies and pointless lives….
And I was sorry then, too, for being so gloomy with kind Mr. Bellis.
There was something in the end, though, in the way he got less cheery at the end of the poem. Was he saying he’s the idiot, “babbling and strewing flowers”? He looked a little guilty, maybe, like he saw the maggots beneath the flowers as much as I did, like the flowers weren’t enough…. “Beauty is not enough,” he’d said. But whose beauty, Mr. Bellis? Where’s the beauty?
I didn’t feel right, and I’m sure he could tell, and maybe my lack of cheery response had changed his mood, too, but I don’t know what to do when my neighbor’s just recited a poem for me….
I think I told him something like, “I’ll be thinking about that poem today, Mr. Bellis. Thank you.”
And it was my way to say goodbye and good day, but then he asked, “Do you like poetry, Ms. Marquetta?”
And what am I supposed to say? What would you have told him?