September Chill

Yikes. The air is crisp this morning.
     And it smells different.
Smells clean, even with this bag over my shoulder.
     And tastes fresh.
Is that my breath?
     The only cloud in sight.
And when did the trees begin their change?
     The yellow rays seem to stain the fringes,
And deliver little warmth.
     The thin breeze delivers goose bumps.
And geese.
     Though now their honking fades.
These dewy blades cut with cold.
     Nippy today, slippers tomorrow.
I’ll hurry the moment.
     Though I don’t mind the September chill.

Because the chill always comes,
     As certain as the fall, yet surprisingly.
A quick change in outlook interrupts the routine,
     Life’s ancient reality confronts the present.
Nature reports, shining new old light.
     Time is short before the long cold night.

But what about the garbage on my back?
     It has its place.
Not on a curb, on a hill.
     Not under a mail box, under a tree,
          Where the wood reminds me.
I have a reliable spot for clean-up.
     My chore is simple and brief.
The shiver is soon enough replaced with warmth.
     No, I won’t mind the September chill.

This poem was inspired by two things: First, morning garbage trips in the fall. Second, my wife’s uncle Buddy. Some explanation is in order.

Buddy recently finished a year long bout with cancer that ended in his death. However, his testimony through his final year was one of hope and confidence in Jesus Christ. Buddy and his family exuded a degree of strength that I believe is very rare. I want to learn from this example. This poem is my attempt to personalize the lesson taught by Buddy.

In this poem, I compare the surprize that a crisp September morning can bring to a man taking out his garbage with the surprize a man experiences when he finds out that he is dying. Both experience a new sensitivity to their surroundings. Both are faced with the coming winter. And both have garbage that they need to deal with.

The response of the Christian should be like the man who knows he only has a quick brisk walk before he is back inside where it is warm. He can take in the chill and appreciate it as a necessary experience while knowing that his time with Christ is coming soon.

Here are some structural helps:

The first section of the poem describes the common experience of a garbage trip in September and emphasizes the sensory nature of the event. This section moves through all five senses as they are linked by either verbal or conceptual means.

The second section begins the metaphor about death. There are several referrences to the origins of this long-standing consequence to sin: “the fall,” “ancient reality,” “nature,” “old light” and “night.”

The only couplet that rhymes in the poem contains the key for interpretation. Here, the metaphor is most explicit and most carefully verbalized. There are three instances of rhyme: “report-short” “old-cold” “light-night.” There are three instances of paradox: “new-old” “short-long” “light-night.” There are four instances of double meaning: “Nature” refers back to the autumn experience in section one and to fallen human nature that is given over to death. “Report” refers to the sensory signals that nature gave in section one and is also a common term for receiving news from a doctor. “Light” refers to the sunlight from section one and to the realization that one is dying. “The long, cold night” refers to a winter night and to death.

The third section is about sin and the cross. The only triplet in the poem indicates its own importance. The entire triplet is a reference to the cross, and the line “Where the wood reminds me” refers to both the cross and uncle Buddy. His full name is Buddy Wood.

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