Yesterday was a national holiday in Iceland: the first day of summer. Predictably, it snowed. Still, people wore shorts and lit their barbecues and ignored the temperature, which couldn't rouse itself too much above freezing. It occurred to me that it requires a great force of will to create summer from nothing and despite all evidence. Marking it in the last week of April, near the Arctic Circle, is both aspirational and optimistic. It is an institutionalized instance of magical thinking.
I haven’t been feeling all that optimistic lately; the base-line of my mood has been uncharacteristically grim. But if Icelanders can ignore the cold the same way that they ignore parking regulations, if they can push their way into summer the same way they push their way into overcrowded bars, then I don’t see why I can’t summon a similar measure of willpower. If I am enthusiastic enough, I’ll find something to be enthusiastic about, right? The sun is blinding today, so who can say that positive thinking doesn't pay off?
I was looking for inspiration in my piles and files of favorite poems. It turns out that the things I like, like the things I write, tend to be on the bloodier side of sanguine. Maybe happy poems are just harder to write without falling into silliness, or maybe I’m just suspicious of happiness. Who knows? I did, however, find this gem by Terence Winch, which perfectly captures that sense of resolve that comes to Icelanders so easily, and to which the rest of us must aspire.
Proclamation for My Father in 1965
broken down again, and day after day it snows and snows
and there I am, with my shovel, in the dark
cold night waiting for day, and wishing I was in New Jersey
with Ethel and P.J. & Marion having a drink and taking in a play.
Maybe later eating oysters at the Oyster Bar
and dancing until four at the United Irish Counties Ball
Whereas I am now sixty years old and don’t feel so good
much of the time, like right now, while fat Father Hammer
just turned fifty and I know is getting set to fire me
but I’ve been here for fifteen years and am ready to go
my own way, into the secret America I never knew before.
The banjo-playing lesbians, the depressed school teachers
who tell me Paddy, Paddy, Paddy, you’re our man
Whereas I feel it all coming apart, the hard years
in this country, the loves gained and lost, the tough jobs
the gigs, the booze, the dearly departed friends
the wife whose absence never ends
while I never mend, always sensing the ghosts so near.
The thing you most fear in life all boils down
to your own invisibility, there for all to see.
Therefore be it resolved that tomorrow will be eighty
degrees and sunny. My children will visit me. My grandchildren
will sing me songs. The Bronx will float on the clean, sweet air
of paradise. I will feed a basement full of cats.
The future sprawls out like a drunk on a bed.