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John Updike

March: A Birthday Poem
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March: A Birthday Poem

 

My child as yet unborn, the doctors nod,

Agreeing that your first month shall be March,

A time of year I know by heart and like

To talk about-I, too, was born in March.

 

March like November a month largely unloved,

Parades before April, who steals all shows

With his harlequinade of things renewed.

Impatient for that pastel fool’s approach,

Our fathers taunted March, called him Hlyd-monath,

Though the month is mild, and a murmurer.

Indeed, after the Titian’s fall and shatter

Of February, March seems a silence.

The Romans, finding February’s ruins

At the feet of March, heard his wind as boasting

And hailed his guilt with a war-god’s name.

 

As above some street in a cobbled sea-town

From opposing walls two huge boards thrust

To Advertise two inns, so do the signs

Of Pisces the Fish and Aries the Ram

Overhang March.  Depending on the day,

Your fortunate gem shall be the bloodstone

Or the diamond, your lucky color crimson

Or silver-gray. You shall prove affable,

Impulsive, lucky in your friends, or not,

According to the counterpoint of stars.

So press your business ventures, wear cravats,

And swear not by the moon. If planting wheat,

Do it at dawn. At dusk for barley. Let

The tide transplant kohlrabi, leeks, and beans.

Toward the month’s end, sow hardy annuals.

 

It was this month when Caesar fell, Stalin died,

And Beethoven. In this month snowflakes melt-

Those last dry crusts that huddle by the barn.

Now kites and crocuses are hoisted up.

Doors slap open. Dogs snuffle soggy leaves,

Rehearsing rusty repertoires of smells.

The color of March is the one that lies

On the shadow side of young tree trunks.

 

March is no land of extremes. Dull as life,

It offers small flowers and minor holidays.

Clouds stride sentry and hold our vision down,

While underfoot the agony of roots

Is hidden by earth. Much, much is opaque.

The thunder bluffs, wind cannot be gripped,

And kites and crocuses are what they are.

Still, child, it is far from a bad month,

For all its weight of compromise and hope.

As modest as a monk, March shall be there

When on that day without a yesterday

You, red and blind and blank, gulp the air.

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