The More It Changes . . .
Delbert R. Gardner
Editor's Note: Go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cELsUMcQdc then come back and begin reading.
Early October, a day to spend at the beach
With a lover (who happens to be my wife).
In sweat-shirts and bathing suits and hand in hand,
We stroll along the sand at water's edge.
The wind is constant and brisk, as if with life
Of its own, so this time we don't go
In the water, but the day really is fine--
Sky mostly clear, with a few puff-balls of clouds
Here and there, and a thin ridge
Of cirrus clouds up high. On the wet sand
We walk, with surf wetting our feet at its will
And smoothing out the prints we leave behind.
The restless ocean is pacing there within reach,
On our right as we walk toward the north,
Changing every minute, but constant still.
Eliot's would-be Don Juan comes to mind,
Walking the beach in rolled-up flannel pants
And wishing mermaids would sing to him their chants,
Instead of to each other. The poor sap:
If they did call him, he wouldn't dare to go--
Not even if the mermaids left him a map!
There was a time when I felt I heard the mermaid,
One hot July, when she flipped her shiny tail
Before the boat in which I rowed across
A glacial lake with my young love--
A maiden who sang of strawberries and wine--
And when I'd rowed the boat into a cove,
She left the stern and pressed her lips to mine,
With honey taste, and honey was her hair.
Then she took a turn and rowed the boat,
While from the stern I pointed out to her
Some landmarks and possibilities here and there.
We laughed at a green-head mallard male
Who flew alongside and settled down to float
Upon the surface briefly, then took to the air.
These are different waters we walk beside,
Since moving south to warmer shores and sunny,
And full-grown are the children we brought forth,
About whose birth, back then we had no clue;
They've each an individual path to find.
And in the air here soars a different bird--
The seagull--it's a different clime and time
Than what we used to know up north.
But our life together, though ever-changing too,
Is still constant, since the magic song we heard.
Strawberries still are sweet, and lips are honey;
The taste buds have not lost their zest for wine!
Commentary on "The More It Changes . . . " by Adele Gardner in consultation with Marilyn H. Gardner: Dad and Mom's story begins with water. They met, but did not date, at Keuka College where Dad taught, overlooking gorgeous Keuka Lake in upstate New York. After Mom graduated, they wrote to each other during the summer, meeting again at last at a cottage on Keuka Lake for a two-week stay with Dad's brother and his family. This was, in Mom's words, the foundation of their romance. While boating together, Mom first sang to Dad the beautiful "Today" by Randy Sparks of the New Christy Minstrels ("Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine," whose lyrics Dad alludes to here, became a staple for them, epitomizing their love, their approach to life, and why their age difference did not matter. From my earliest years, I loved hearing their voices raised together in sweet harmony on this song and others).
But Mom had already signed a contract to teach that fall in Glen Burnie, Maryland, which was a ten-hour drive from Keuka on winding, narrow country roads in sometimes life-threatening weather. During a long year of driving and distance, they spent happy hours together at the beach at Sandy Point Park, Maryland, even in October.
After married bliss by the shores of Lake Keuka, at last life brought them back to another waterside location, Hampton Roads, Virginia, where they again enjoyed visiting many beaches, at which our family swam, or the two of them strolled together. As an older man rolling his pants to wade in the surf with my mother, Dad found himself recalling "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot; as a further parallel, Dad had linked Mom with the Mermaid of Copenhagen in an earlier poem. But unlike Prufrock, Dad had the courage to answer the call of the mermaid, despite many obstacles, including their twenty-two-year age difference; the objections of Mom's parents; attitudes at the college; and his own horrible first marriage, despite which he loved and trusted Mom.
Editor's Note: Mr. Gardner's use of the beginning and ending blank verse stanzas to bookend the lilting interlude in rhyming iambic pentameter creates a special kind of magical world within a magical world. I enjoy the way the imagery moves between romanticized reality and real romance. And, of course, I am a sucker for poems that mention seagulls.
On a personal note, the song "Today" coincidentally has a special place in my heart. In the late '90s, I sang bass in a SPEBSQSA-registered barbershop quartet called Classic Touch. "Today" was one of our favorite songs to perform--always a crowd pleaser. I, too, live by the philosophy so eloquently expressed in that timeless ballad. "You'll know who I am by the song that I sing."