Mar. 21, 2007

First Day of Spring

by Ann Hudson

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "First Day of Spring" by Ann Hudson, from The Armillary Sphere. © Ohio University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

First Day of Spring

It's a wild March morning in Chicago, the wind
dragging its nets through the streets.
Trawling for its usual and plentiful treasures:

crushed styrofoam cups, torn newspapers,
lost gloves, a blizzard of fast food napkins.
I take my eight-year-old Toyota

through the car wash. Idling in neutral,
I ease past the powerful, shaggy brushes,
the nozzles spraying limp foam onto the hood,

and remember the sick excitement I felt
when my father took my sisters and me through,
all the windows of our '67 baby blue Valiant

tightly cranked, the antenna pushed into its sleeve,
our doors locked against who-knows-what,
the three of us with our identical haircuts

buckled into the back seat, our identical shoes
drumming the vinyl. I was sure
those huge blue brushes would crash

right through the windshield and pin us to our seats.
At eight, a child sure of impending danger this
was about all the thrill I could handle.

I pull out of the car wash into the tangle
of traffic, past the bars that open at nine in the morning
and stay open, past the disheveled and pacing junkies,

past the crumbling theater draped in shadow and disrepair,
and make slow headway against the wind
that gathers the stray grocery bags all over the city,

whipping them against the masts
of budding hawthorns, silver maples,
bald cypress, green ash, green ash.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Earth is tilted on its axis, so as it travels around the sun each pole is sometimes tilted toward the sun and sometimes tilted away. It is this tilt that causes the seasons, as well as the shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. On this day, the north and south poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.

Emily Dickinson said, "A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King."

Margaret Atwood said, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old."

It was on this day in 1790 that Thomas Jefferson (books by this author) took office as the United States' first secretary of state, a job that he did not much care for.

He had been serving as the United States' ambassador to France, and he had fallen in love with the city of Paris. The only reason he was willing to come back to America to become secretary of state was that George Washington personally asked him to take the position. Jefferson couldn't say no to George Washington.

He regretted his decision almost as soon as he arrived in Philadelphia. The city had grown bigger, dirtier, and noisier in his absence. The house that he rented was on the main wagon route into the city, which made it almost too noisy to think when he was at home. It didn't help that he was obsessed with remodeling, and so his house was constantly full of carpenters and bricklayers.

And Jefferson immediately found that he did not get along with other members of George Washington's cabinet. He and Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the Treasury, disagreed about almost everything, from the creation of a National Bank to the country's relations with Great Britain. Hamilton thought it would be to the nation's advantage to have good relations with Great Britain, since it was the most powerful nation on the planet at the time. Jefferson thought the U.S. should ally itself with France, which had recently become only the second democratic government in the world.

Jefferson would suffer from terrible migraines for most of his time as secretary of state, and he later looked back on those years as a kind of torture. But the experience of butting heads with Alexander Hamilton solidified many of his political ideas, and he went on to found the first oppositional political party in American history.

It's the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born in Eisenach, Germany (1685). He started out as a professional church organist, and he developed a reputation as one of the best organists in the country. Members of his congregation were annoyed by his habit of improvising while playing hymns, which made it difficult for people to sing along.

He eventually moved to Leipzig, where he worked as the city's director of church music for the rest of his life, and where he composed most of his major works. Bach earned a decent living in Leipzig, but he had a grueling workload. He had to write a cantata every month, so in order to get ahead of the deadlines, he wrote one every week for the first two years. In addition to serving as organist and musical director at church services, he had to teach a boys' class in Latin and music, and he was continually frustrated by his undisciplined students and the inexperienced musicians he had to work with.

Despite all his difficulties, he managed to compose some of the greatest works of music in history, including The Passion According to St. John (1723), The Passion According to St. Matthew (1729), Mass in B minor (1733), and the Goldberg Variations (1742). During his lifetime, almost no one appreciated his music. It wasn't until about 75 years after his death that people realized what a genius he was.

Johann Sebastian Bach said, "There's nothing remarkable about [making music]. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »