In The Season Of A Day

By Peter Halstead

Whan that morning with its Brit’ney shoots
               The Dolce’d night Gabbana suits
               And Versaces in swich Brad clothes
               That L.A. Maybachs i’ the roads;
               Whan Disneys on some Frito day
               Rood Buicks al the Coast Highway,
               Booties Blahnik’d on the Rayban meed,
               Beauté Malibu’d as Agnès B’d,
               So longen them to Cher the route
               That on this Chevy’d idyll fruite,
               And line with Burberry the store
               That sich summer pastorals Dior.

May 23rd, 2005


This poem strikes me as perfectly obvious, which means that it probably isn’t.
I had been quite annoyed by a best-dressed list where nebulous celebs were asked their favorite shoes, stores, watches, jewels, etc. Of course, I read it closely. A fix to last until we make it back to the States. I was driven crazy by the endless branding. Why don’t we sell the rights to the months? Why don’t we brand the minutes? Why don’t we just sell time? Half past Britney. Buick season.
I remember reading Wordsworth on one of the few lawns at Columbia, in front of Carman Hall, under Columbia’s only tree, and it was the juxtaposition of even such faded beauty against the bloodless concrete that permeated the spirit of the campus that made me decide, in a flash of grimy urban lightning, to be a poet. On the first days of spring, my thoughts still wander out of the room wherever I am and sit under that floating dogwood. The blight that eliminated all such trees, and with them Keatsian summer and my deflowered childhood, made me determined to bring those Acacias back, to return from hell with the spring.
We had taken a rowboat through the Dordogne (a river was involved), willows hanging over grassy banks edging onto flowered fields leading up to old farms, all of which stuck in my mind as the proper window dressing for poetry. Whatever we read to the buzzing of bees must be poems.
Behind its Jabberwocky façade, the poem is one of those verdure-draped, glistening-grove, midsummer-night suspended silences in the bucolic tradition of the Idylls of Theocritus (c. 280 B.C.), the Eclogues of Virgil (c. 42 B.C.), and Auden’s song “Lay your sleeping head” (1937), which he came very close to leaving unpublished. It is also a demure invitation to the reader to read the book, as are Frost’s “The Pasture” (1915), Lewis Carroll’s “All in the Golden Afternoon” (1865), and Merrill’s “Nightgown” (1966).
Rather than raking leaves or floating down the Thames, my less passive readers motor down the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. Instead of bees, they have Agnès B’s. Disneys I imagine to be like Barneys, wannabe surfers or Mouseketeers, preteen halftime rhyming cheerleaders.
“Chevy’d” invokes the car but also MacLeish’s “mind” in “The Learned Men” (1948): “Chivvied by flea and dog, / Baited by love and rage.” “Store” means “lavish self-replicating natural surroundings,” as in Keats’s “To Autumn” (1819): “Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?”
Gabbana, Versace, Maybach, Blahnik, Agnès B, Cher, and Dior are verbs today. Burberry is a fashion line, but suggests berries. Maybach is a pimped-up Mercedes, but combines May and Bach, the latter of which being a composer and a Welsh term of endearment. Beauty is just as soon lured to Malibu as dressed in Agnès B. To Dior is to make the day golden, both words (“di” and “or”) nestled inside the initial Fabergé matryoshka. “Garland” would be a good synonym.
The form itself is Chaucer’s, from the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales (1387): “Whan that April with his showres soote…"
If I could paraphrase it: When candied night is covered up by the crisp British buds of morning, which dances in this elegant disguise until the whole city seems to march May-like through its gardens, when young girls in the pink of spring drive up the PCH, feet espadrilled and bodies convertibled, their beauty just as soon beached as frocked, they long in fact to share the paths that bloom on such roadside mornings and line the highway banks with just the fabulous berries that summer poetry kindles. Cathy adds, Ada-like, “Dolce et Gabbana est pro poesi mori.”
In the season of a day: the way the first notes of a Beethoven sonata dictate its whole, a day is a lifetime in miniature. It is its own season.