November can be the cruelest month, especially when the end of Daylight Savings Time plunges us suddenly into premature darkness. From then on, it’s a slippery downhill slope for many of us, straight through the holidays and into the New Year when we begin noticing the precious minutes of daylight that beat back the darkness once more.
Thanksgiving is just a week away. My mother died on November 20, 1970, just before Thanksgiving, and she’s always on my mind this time of year. But fortunately, I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and this November I’m feeling cheerfully upbeat. My workshops at the Arts Center of the Capital Region have been going well. First came the Blockbusting session on November 4th, and then The Alchemy of Creative Writing got off to a great start last Tuesday evening.* With three more weeks to go, I’m setting some writing goals for myself as well as my students. The chilly gray days of November are perfect for hunkering down at my computer and conjuring up some creative alchemy of my own.
I’ve taken many workshops at the Arts Center over the years, including a poetry class taught by Julie Gutmann back in 2010. For one assignment, she asked us to write a poem following the structure of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I chose to tackle November, and today I decided to post that poem here. But I hadn’t read it in ages, and I was struck by how unremittingly gloomy it is. Back then I was in the throes of a serious clinical depression, and if I were to write a November poem today, it would be far cheerier. But I’ve always written my best poetry when I’m depressed, so here it is.
Eleven Ways of Looking at November
Rusty crimson leaves
Cling to my smoke tree
Breathing in pale November sunlight.
The dead oak’s gray-brown branches
Hollowed by woodpeckers
Sway outside my window
Waiting for November’s winds
To tear them down at last.
My mother died in late November.
I crafted a comforting casserole
From the dregs of Thanksgiving dinner.
I savor the cold November breeze
Wafting across my body from the open window.
Swaddled in Polar Fleece to save on oil,
I’ve learned to welcome the encroaching cold.
Election Day’s finally over. News is bad
This chill November morning.
A hard freeze frosts the fallen autumn leaves
Ushering in years of deadlock and decline.
The slanting sun casts shadows on the siding
Of the house across the way, silhouetting
A scrawny maple shedding yellow leaves.
Its roots snake unseen beneath our basement.
November’s high time to take it down but even so
We’ll probably let it be.
A friend my age is failing. A housebound invalid,
She measures out these cold November days
In solitude, refuses visitors.
She longs for death, having a valid reason
Weeds have repossessed
My withering November garden.
Only stonecrop thrives
Among the shriveled thistles, chicory
And Queen Anne’s Lace. In my depression,
I let them go to seed.
Daylight savings’s over in November.
Fall back and gain an extra hour
To while away in bed
Dreading another day
Of uninspired ordinary options.
November rain falls hard and cold
On my neglected garden
Nourishing buried bulbs of daffodil and crocus.
In spring they’ll bloom again around the graves
Of late beloved pets.
People are prone to seasonal affective sadness
In this the eleventh month, so says my shrink.
But still I hold firm to nearly barren branches,
Stubborn as rusty crimson smoke tree leaves
In the November rain.
So much has changed in the past seven years. I can’t remember what election I was so upset about back then, but 2016 has been far worse. On the bright side, I’m no longer neglecting my garden. In fact I planted a bunch of bulbs this fall — parrot tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. I’m accompanying this post with photos I took last week, when a few of my annuals were still clinging to life, especially the violas. My mother’s name was Viola, so I always plant some in her memory, even though she hated the name Viola and was always known as Vi.
How is November treating you? Are you looking forward to a joyful holiday season, or do you dread the dark months to come? Either way, I’d love to hear from you, so we can compare notes or commiserate together.
*I’ll be offering the Block Busting and Alchemy classes again this spring, so if you missed out this time, you’ll have another chance.