The cusp of August is the cruelest of all... after all those days of long, lingering heat and humidity-- of pink sunsets and procrastinations... September is staring me in the face like a damned balance sheet. It's been a year now that my Mom is gone; I stood over her grave last week-- listened for her shadow... praying that old family feuds would allow my stonecutter's dream to mark her peace... I sang her little song ... If ever I would leave you...it wouldn't be in summer... but it was.
The year I was born saw the hottest streak of the century. We toughed it out in those pre-air-conditioned days at the beach at Belle Harbor, or the city river boardwalks... I swear I remember the heat of my stuffed crib-reindeer, his wilted felt lashes fluttering in the fan-wind, the buzz of flies and mosquitoes outside the apartment screens whining to come in and sample the sweet room-babies... Perry Como on the radio... It set a bar for high temperatures; I've never really minded the heat since then-- well, maybe one year, with a cast on my leg, I struggled through, sitting under the apple tree, distracted by my new discovery of language and books; my mother made frozen lemonade and taught me to sing Que sera, sera...
In 1969 I spent the month in Mexico where it seemed a daily rainstorm relieved baking afternoons, and neighborhood boys brought guitars and played 'Yo sin ti' over and over. We hitchhiked to the city where I locked myself in a record-store booth with 'Tommy' and realized how homesick I was for rock and roll. See Me... Feel Me... it was like a shiver.
Another summer I danced at a festival-- eight grueling hours of practice and technique in hot studios and gymnasiums.. I'd lean on the sill of my tiny Connecticut room at 2 AM and hear the same loon moaning. Weekends I rode bone-tired on the back of a vintage BMW motorcycle between New London and the city, clinging to the hot leather back of a budding rock-God, hearing the young Van Morrison in my head and watching the road for a Dairy Queen.
A few years later, I had the first taste of The Dark Side of the Moon sitting outside a hunting lodge in the hills of Northern Italy with a bunch of British hippies and piles of drugs... thinking through a fog of smoke and Valpolicella how the word august meant celebrated and auspicious from the Latin... we were high and dry and often naked and the world spread beneath us like a vineyard... the days baked on, Money was a song... it seemed the summer never ended until one day we woke up happily back in our dormitory.
Lately the summer funerals have draped the dog days with mourning. On 103rd Street there is a new shrine to another young neighborhood casualty. Papi, the messages spell out in tears.. rows and rows of candle-glasses and stuffed animals for Di-Quai who was just 19. This, too, shall pass. Already in the 104th-Street playground there is a barbecue with yellow balloons. Someone has brought a light... the boombox blasts No Tears Left to Cry and then Diamonds by the Boatload... they are done with Aretha-- that was last week's old-school. And Saturday's perfect cupcake-top moon... the iced vanilla round, pearl of my heart... is now a lemon slice in the sky to these sun-baked eyes tonight.
No matter how rough it gets, we gonna go 31 this month. It seems unfair that they are unequal, that September 'hath' 30, and February we all pay for an extra two days of cable we don't get. But August... it held out its hot breath until Aretha, John McCain, Di Quai and a host of others realized they would not see the changing of the leaves. Where do they go, I wonder... sitting by my mother's burial site with my ear to the ground, feeling the afternoon warmth in the grass, trying to fight the terrible urge to dig through the soft earth and see what is left of her-- just once more... like an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Forgive me, Mom. For not cremating you, for failing, for your missing epitaph.
On the way back down Madison tonight, I passed that big black hospital; outside, a few men in wheelchairs were taking in the night air, smoking forbidden cigarettes and comparing bandaged legs in various phases of amputation, whistling at the young nurses. Where are their mothers, wives, children? I wonder if they miss the old summer songs the way I do. They don't seem nearly as miserable as some of my neighbors here in the building-- with their renovations and their botox and their summer hair treatments. My Van Morrison is old and heavy, Elvis is long gone.... my lovely Mom who mourned Perry Como and Frank Sinatra with true grief barely had a voice when she lay down for the last time. I wonder who she dreamed of, who she took with her that last trip... I hope Di Quai had time to make a wish. Happy Birthday, Papi... whenever it will be... 31 candles I've blown out now... I don't know what song you'd like to hear, but I'm sure someone does... For now I'll just whistle like an old train and greet the September morning with courage.