A change of seasons
Shifts cloud and light about October skies;
Against a luminous gray, it casts
On those gingerbread cottages
Across the pond
Or on the red gold stripe of sugar maple
Up a ridge on Gunstock,
Dramaturgy on a crisp day.
At the restaurant the owner smiled
As though he might remember us.
I see him twenty years ago,
Holding the door for my mother,
A kind touch, softly, on the elbow,
Her gnarled hands gripping the walker,
Slowly up the ramp.
That was the summer my father died;
Time accrues before you feel
The mnemonic pull of a place.
TSTmpj: The poem's delineation between the inside and the outside -- what nature does under those October skies and what happened inside the restaurant -- seems to me to allude to our inner and outer life. Any thoughts on this comment?
Robert Demaree: The structure of a poem can be dictated initially by the order in which the events actually happened. But then you see contrasts that tell you what was really on your mind. The outward dramaturgy in the first stanza suggests the possibility of an inner event. It takes the narrator a while to see what that event was—the touch on the elbow, the unlocked memory. I hoped that the exterior and interior experiences would come together in a particularity of place.
TSTmpj: Another sense I get from your poem is family roots being natural roots. Given that so many families are dysfunctional, do you see this dysfunctionality as "natural"; or are, perhaps, our ancestral, family roots to be viewed more as mythic, in the sense that they took place in those metaphorical "gingerbread houses"?
Robert Demaree: The search for family and home, dysfunctional or not, is, of course, one of the classic motifs in all literatures. So I think that those roots, in our immediate and larger families, are indeed mythic, something you come to terms with, hang on to. You find home and family where you can. As Robert Frost famously wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in."
TSTmpj: Memory is such a key aspect of our humanity. Do you feel that for you personally its importance has grown over the years, and if perhaps it has, in what ways?
Robert Demaree: Memory is also an essential part of poetry. Its importance of necessity grows over the years, as we struggle to keep it in focus and, coming upon a memory, like a lost note in the bottom of a desk drawer, ascribe a meaning we had not known was there. I love Billy Collins’ poem "The Effort," in which he jokes about teachers "fond of asking/ 'What is the poet trying to say?'" I find that what I am trying to say has to do almost completely with memory—the weight of the past, the abiding presence of loss, the mnemonic pull of place.
Robert Demaree is a retired educator who's authored four collections, including Mileposts (2009). He has had over 550 poems individually published.