Sunday, October 6, 2013

Indian Summer

Indian Summer
It is well into October – but the temperature is high,
As the sun attempts a clearing in a cloud-infested sky.

Though a peach be called a mango, it can hardly taste as sweet.
Though we're told that it is autumn, it is summer on the street.

So we've roaches on the sidewalks that may scurry from the trash,
And the music of the iceman draws in fistfuls, still, of cash.

And the kids at school are restive, as they crave the A.C.'s blast.
And the menopausal teachers, they are racing to it fast.

For the equinox of autumn, it had come, with all its show.
And the leaves are browned and falling, but the summer will not go.

We're in an “Indian summer” – and, despite the shortened day,
The blizzards of the winter – they appear so far away.

And so many are complaining that they swelter, that it's rotten,
With the hardships of the winter now conveniently forgotten.

But some others are contented with these added days of summer,
For they'd rather not be bundled, and they're relishing the simmer.

And the swollen gourds and pumpkins, they are ripening on the vine.
And the figs are growing darker, and they're tasting quite divine.

And the girls that hail from China, they are wearing tiny shorts,
For a leg that's slim and shapely, such a showing-off, affords.

For the summer's for relaxing, while the autumn is for labor,
Or so we are conditioned, as we bask in season's favor.

But we see the sun is slanting and we feel the heat is mild,
And we know that this is transient and we'll have a winter wild.

And the season of the hurricanes will last till mid-November.
And the damage done by Sandy, with a shiver, some remember.

If a season were a lover, it might give us pleasure, yes,
But could also end up hurting us, as much as it might bless.

So whenever there's a warming, at around this time of year,
There is pleasure in that warming – but a frisson, still, of fear.

It's the heat that drives the monsters, it's the heat that draws them in,
For these days of our indulgence, we'll be paying, as for sin.

And that sentiment is Indian, that I curiously expressed.
So my Asia hasn't left me, but has only been repressed.

But the ones that this is named for, who were Indianed in name,
They are vanished.  This reminder – does it waken any shame?

I am answered by a snorting.  "Should we care for what was past?
Be contented with the present – and you'll see it's going fast."

There were summers, that I lived through, that were Indian indeed,
But this interlude in autumn, named for “Indians”, it is sweet.

And I fancy I hear “Indians”, who had lived upon these coasts.
On their drums, they're softly beating, as this Brooklyn slowly roasts.

It is just an autumn powwow, by the ocean, on the field,
As the tribesmen yearly gather – and this land of bounty yield.

But they never had “possessed” it, as we others try to do.
Can the shrimps possess the ocean?  Can the ships – with all their crew?

Can the ants possess the prairie, or the grasses growing wild?
This season's a reminder – and the question, it is mild.

For as seasons are of transience, so are beings on this Earth,
And by this, you can be saddened – or have bellyfuls of mirth.

And the drums that I've been hearing, imagined though they be,
They are asking us the question – “Can you hear – and can you see?”

2013 October 5th, Sat. & 6th, Sun.
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn


For those unfamiliar with the term, “Indian Summer”, this expression, as used here in the  U.S.A., refers  to an extended interval of  warming during what is officially the autumn season here.  Warming spells occur sporadically here between late September and early  November, and if one of these lasts long enough, it may earn that moniker.  There is no connection to the Asian subcontinent, except  for the historical blunder or swindle of Columbus. 

The seasons recognized over much of this country are the same four that the early settlers were used to, back in Western Europe.   This is not always a good fit, as people know, for instance, in coastal California (where there is not much seasonal variation) or in parts of the arid Southwest, where there is a long dry season and a brief “monsoon”. 

In much of India, there was a tradition of  six seasons, each consisting  of roughly two months.  One of these was the season of the rains.  The imported Arabic word “mousam”, meaning “weather”, later  came to be used, by the English, exclusively for the Indian rainy season, being mispronounced as “monsoon”.  This word is also used, in meteorology, for certain seasonal movements of air masses – often associated with rain-bearing clouds that bring moisture from the ocean into a large low-pressure region  that develops above a heated land area, such as parts of Asia or North America during their summers.

All along the eastern plains and coasts of the United States, there are contests between air masses surging inland from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, often bearing warm, humid air, and those being driven across the prairies by the prevailing westerly winds or sweeping south from Canada.  Owing to the absence of significant mountain ranges east of the Rockies, the fronts between these air masses swing around quite swiftly and rather randomly, giving rise to dramatic changes in weather, including that experienced during an “Indian Summer”.

A perhaps unrelated term, relevant, however, to some of the final verses, is the expression, “Indian giver”. This is a derogatory term, applied to someone who wants to take back what appeared to be a gift.

I believe this originated from a cultural misunderstanding.  The Amerindians who were settled on the coasts and elsewhere, practicing agriculture but not part of major feudal hierarchies as prevailed in much of the Old World (and perhaps in parts of Mexico and regions further South in the Americas), retained some of the traditional attitudes and habits of our hunter-gatherer species.  So there was probably little recognition of the invidious concept of individual property, or perhaps even of “possession”, as the European settlers were familiar with.  So agricultural implements, for example, might have been shared among the Amerindian villagers and loaned out to adjacent European settlers – who assumed that this was a permanent transfer of a “possession”, taking it to be either a gift or some form of compensation.  When a native later wanted it back to use, this was considered a deficiency in character – and anyone who did such a thing came to called an “Indian giver”.

Sharing and generosity have come to be even more hounded over the years, becoming so rare as to be institutionally confined (and commercialized) to certain times of the year – with Christmas being a familiar example.

Amerindians from various tribes (now called “nations”) do still gather for seasonal powwows, during which drums are beaten and ceremonial dances are danced. One of these gatherings occurs not that far from where I live, taking place yearly near the grounds of Fort Hamilton (which overlooks and guards the Verrazano  Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island, this being the entrance to  Upper New York Bay and a scene of naval battles during the Revolutionary War).  However, these gatherings are usually during the late summer, not in October – and so I have made use of poetic license here, for which I apologize. (I did write, “I fancy I hear...” and perhaps this was a memory of summer, invoked by the “Indian summer” that now prevails here – far too briefly.)

Finally, “Sandy” was hurricane “S” of the previous year's hurricane season.  It hit New York City and adjacent areas during a high tide, flooded much of lower Manhattan  and the low-lying coastal areas of Staten Island and Brooklyn, destroying many homes and taking some lives.  Coastal New Jersey, heavily settled, experienced even greater devastation, with the shorelines left dramatically altered.

All of that might perhaps be viewed as a harsh lesson, both about possession and about transience...

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