Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Lilac Time—Murfin Verse Redux

Three years ago we planted these lilac bushes on the Murfin Estate. This is the first year they have come fully into bloom. In twenty or thirty years--long after we are dust and assuming no one tears them out, they will form an arch over the sidewalk leading from Ridge Avenue. 

To paraphrase Walt Whitman without the mournful reference to Lincoln’s assassination, this is when Lilacs bloom in the dooryard.  Or in the case of the Murfin Estate, flanking the sidewalk from Ridge Avenue in Crystal Lake.  This is the first time since Kathy and I planted them in 2018 that they have fully bloomed—an occasion of much joy at the homestead.  That recalls old Murfin Verse.

One early poem from my high school days in Skokie, Illinois has apparently been lost.  It was a reverie about a bike ride on a Spring night.  It began “With Lilacs in his well-worn hat/he rode the evening day away…”  As juvenilia it is probably no great loss.

The typescript of the poem I wrote for daughter Carolynne years ago and she re-discovered.

Sometime around 2000 I penned this memory piece, a copy of which was discovered on a folded typescript a few years ago by my oldest daughter, Carolynne Larsen Fox.


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 last 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

Lilacs in a cold Spring rain.

Back when I was a janitor at Briargate School in Cary, Illinois a cool, foggy morning inspired this verse, a version of which was included in my 2004 Skinner House Books collection We Build Temples in the Heart.

Lilacs Again

Lilacs in the soft gray glove

                of a cold wet spring—


“Where has spring gone?”

                demanded the shivering lips

                as the asker speeds

                to a cozy nest

                of cappuccino and scones.


As if spring were all red and yellow tulips

                brilliant, tall and proud,

                swaying with God’s breath

                amid the verdant sweep,

                dappled with sun and shade,

                filtered through a glory of apple blossoms

                under a perfect sky.


And when the days pass and the gray is vanquished,

                the sun restored to its throne,

                the lilacs, past perfection,

                wilt and brown along their tips.


“Too bad the lilacs failed this year,”

                the morning voice

                refreshed by proper spring,

                chirps with the barest trace

                of disappointment.


—Patrick Murfin


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