Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lilacs—Lost Murfin Verse Unearthed

The lilacs in these parts have mostly faded or gone to seed.  In a day or two they will be gone for the year. You would expect a poem about them to have been posted weeks ago when they were bursting, fresh, and vibrant.  But while we were in Texas this week end my oldest daughter, Carolynne Larsen Fox, posted a scan of a folded sheet of type script on Facebook.  It was a long forgotten poem I gave her something just short of 20 years ago or so.

The ancient typescript that Carolynne found.
Lilacs is autobiographical.  It captures memories of actual lilacs, the sweet scent, and the color at various moments in my life since childhood.  Some stanzas reflect things that I have written about in various memoir stories, like playing Davey Crockett in a Cheyenne back yard.  Others reference other poems—“riding the evening day away” in Skokie, a piece written when I was still in High School.  
Daughters Heather, left, and Carolynne, right with my cousin Linda at the weds,ding dinner at our Albany Street apartment.  Note the framed caricatures on the wall behind them which were made at a visit to Sally's Stage a few month earlier.  This picture doesn't show us, but her eyes were indeed green and she is wearing a lilac colored skirt, her signature color
Another is related to a still lost poem—the one Carolynne was looking for when she unearthed this one.  That one was a little poem I wrote for her not long after I became her stepfather.  She was about ten years old and disconsolate about her green eyes.  I suspect she had been bullied or teased in school or in the neighborhood in Chicago.  She wept uncontrollably.  I was new at the daddy business, ham handed, and unsure of myself.  I wasn’t even sure if my hugs were welcome.  So I scrawled a few lines on a tablet predicting that those green eyes would become the feature guys would be drawn to.  Not much of a poem, if I remember, but one which she kept all these years since and now was distressed not to be able to find.
Back to the poem at hand, reading it with fresh eyes made me realize that the annual here-and-gone lilacs were a metaphor for mortality, something that the younger man who rolled a sheet of paper into an old manual typewriter didn’t realize.
I wasn’t a very good poet back then, not that I am any kind of master now.  I cringed at a clumsy and unnecessary repetitive stanza opening “I remember” so I simply cut that.  There were a couple of other minor tinkers.
But here, resurrected like a zombie from a grave is Lilacs.

There were Wyoming lilac caves
            from which we went Crocketing
            in that sweet aroma twined
            with the musk of dead raccoon
            nestled on our scalps.

Grandma’s bathroom
            tiled black and coral,
            pink flamingoed mirrors,
            crisp towels and Lifebuoy
            where parchment hands clasped
            lilac dusting puff
            from the mother-of-pearl canister
            to finish Sabbath ablutions.

The two seat barber shop
            with trout and geese,
            Field & Stream and Argosy,
            and Dizzy Dean’s laconic call
            where Swisher Sweets
            and lilac water splashed
            on new mown skulls
            made a Saturday man.

The Skokie nights
            with lilacs in my well-worn hat
            I rode the evening day away,
            peddled into adolescent reverie,
            sang the long gone partings
            of two infant nations’ war,
            chanted dreams of glory verse
            “When lilacs las in the dooryard bloomed.”

The Chicago days
            when only lilac could wrap
            Carolynne in fleecy warmth
            or cotton fluff,
            green eyes, and Farah Fawcett hair,
            Rick Springfield and Menudo,
            a laughing daughter of lavender secrets.

And now the ancient lilac grows
            at the marked corner of my lot
            overgrowing three surveyors lines,
            half dead wood but blooming yet
            although box elder and weedy elm
            with youth throw their vigor
            through the tangles.

Lilacs, lilacs pace my life
            And count my springs.

—Patrick Murfin
Circa 2000

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