In the merry month of May
As April turned into May, the headlines read: BUDGET TALKS STALL BRITAIN BLOCKADES FALKLANDS
But the morning began so gently -- all light, with the promise of warmth by noon. The newspaper reader in his dappled breakfast nook, watching his jar of marmalade transformed into red-gold translucence, found it hard to reconcile this palpable world of sun with that abstract world of black print.
Certainly the cat by the door knows nothing of the world of headlines: HEAVY FIGHTING IN EL SALVADOR RECORD BANKRUPTCIES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
The cat knows only the world of sun. The cat is nine months old, but he has been a city cat for eight of those months - an indoor cat. Now he is a new cat in the new world that each spring brings forth. He sniffs the air, eyes and whiskers twitching like Groucho Marx as he sidles out the back door. He seems determined to treat spring with the suspicion his owner reserves for winter mornings. He creeps into the garden as if it were a jungle, crouching in ambush behind the Korean lilac bush at the rustle of an old leaf from last November. But once he attains the stone wall in a perfect little leap, tail fluffed out in balance, he does an imperceptible little dance. This world -- this world outside the headlines, this perennial spring -- is finally irresistible.
After the cat has disappeared, after more harsh headlines have been read -- VIOLENCE IN GAZA STRIP; INTEREST RATES REMAIN HIGH -- the newspaper reader, properly dejected, shuffles to the front door to bring in the milk. On the top step of the porch, between the stone slab step and the brick facing at the back, there it is again; the annual dandelion in the crack. Every spring it asserts itself, stretching triumphantly toward the sun out of its tiny planet of moss.
What does a dandelion in a crack have to do with the headlines of 1982?
There is, the headlines say, ISLAMIC UNREST IN NIGERIA. There is UNEMPLOYMENT IN OREGON. But the wrens at the bird feeder sing their hearts out as if all's well in the best of all possible worlds, and they had just invented song to celebrate.
Which is true, the world of birdsong or the world of headlines?
After the newspaper has been folded away, the reader goes for a walk in the ancient, regenerated world of spring -- the world of cats and birds and dandelions in cracks, both older and newer than any headlines. In a front yard a baby in winter swaddling lies on a blanket on the lawn. Her mother's apple, waiting to be eaten, lies beside her. The red skin of the apple dazzles. The grass seems to be turning greener and greener before your eyes, like an exercise in slow-motion photography. The baby flexes her left leg, waves both arms, gives her torso a wild wriggle, then squeals, to her own surprise and delight.
No headlines but rather a poem by Wallace Stevens would appear to supply her text: Shall she not find in comfort of the sun, In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else In any balm or beauty of the earth, Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
If you are a baby or a cat or a wren or a dandelion or a jar of marmalade in a shaft of sun on a breakfast table, this is the merry month of May. If you are oblivious to history, you are beyond it.
But is there no other way to escape the headlines and claim this other world? If someone is as sane as a saint or as sensible as a philosopher, cannot someone find through a kind of wisdom, as well as oblivion, the merry month of May? It remains a necessary green hope.