The Half Moon

August 15, 2014
“The half moon hangs o’er the Mississippi River,
The half moon hangs in a robin-egg sky;
The half moon hangs on a mid-August morning:
Let us give thanks;
Let us give thanks.”
 
“White egrets fish on the Mississippi River,
And blue herons fish in the shallow shadows,
And pelican fish on a mid-August morning:
Let us give thanks,
Let us give thanks.”
 
“Pan flew over me, rested in the crook of an oak tree,
Blew a kiss to me; it tasted like wine;
But he doesn’t drink the water, the farm runoff water
The pesticide water,
He just drinks his tears.”
 
“And tall bluffs rise from the Mississippi River,
Spires of limestone older than history,
Its fossils tell stories on a mid-August morning,
Let us give thanks,
Let us give thanks.”
 
“Oh, the half moon hangs o’er the Mississippi River;
The half moon hangs in a robin-egg sky;
The half moon hangs on a mid-August morning:
Let us give thanks,
Let us give thanks.”
 
I found this tome in a 50’s book of regional folk songs, as I was researching some facts for a short story. I copied the lyrics and put them away in a desk drawer and waited for the next August, to see if I could see what the poet saw. And yesterday I saw the half moon hanging, above my beloved river. And I gave thanks.
 
Farther on, at the bottom of Stroke Hill, I saw Hummingbird Man and his son and daughter-in-law standing under the bird feeders, rubythroats buzzing their heads. They waved me over.
 
I wrote about the son in April, when he rescued two orphaned, baby squirrels. He had brought out the babies for me to hold. I cradled them in my arms and scratched their soft bellies, the wee ones sucking on my fingertips.
 
I’m happy to report, the squirrels, now grown up, are alive and well. The boy got antsy and started tearing up the house. The son and daughter-in-law released the juvenile delinquent, and he settled into a tree in the back yard. The girl squirrel has become completely domesticated. She sleeps with the young couple, poops and pees outside, comes back in at night. She has built a nest on a closet shelf and is, for all intensive purposes, a cat.
 
The deep green of summer has already faded. Leaves are falling. The River Road trail is littered with fallen acorns. Farmers gossip in the café, about snow in September—they swear a weatherman predicted it. Do I believe it? When pigs fly.
 
Apples are abundant. I get sick of apples, about February, when all I can think of, dream of, lust for are blueberries and blackberries and peaches. I have a sack of Aldi’s last-fall apples in my refrigerator. They are mushy and flavorless. But new apples, new Ozark gold apples, crunchy honeycrisp apples, oh yes, the juice soaking into my beard, oh yes.
 
Seventy per cent of the local peach crop was destroyed last winter. Calhoun peaches, if you can find them, are very expensive. I’ve had to resort to eating Georgia peaches, mere imitations of our local fruit. (I’ve had but one good Georgia peach in my life, a Monticello College girl from Atlanta. As an adult, she dedicated her book of pornographic romance stories for women, to me. You take your honors where you can get them.)
 
I saw a baby cardinal perched and still and solemn, on Stanka Lane. People think spring when they think of baby birds. Most bird species have multiple broods, so this latecomer wasn’t much of a surprise. I put my palms together and scooted the babe to the side of the road.
 
Stroke Hill, aka Mt. Butt Breaker,  is colorful in late summer. I mean the tarred surface, not the woods. Animals get squashed and eventually flatten and meld with the pavement. I could see puree of wooly caterpillar and blue racer snake and mottled tree frog and blue-tail skinks. I followed a trail of reddish hawk feathers to the crest of the hill and saw a smashed red-tail hawk on the side of the road.
 
The half moon wasn’t there this morning. The anonymous lyricist had noted a rare sight, as I do now, though I am not so eloquent. 
 
On August 14, 1969, as the half moon hung above the Mississippi River, I moved to Chicago. Woodstock opened on Max Yasgur’s New York farm. There was a great block party in Rogers Park, in Chicago. I waded into it, a scared stranger in a strange city. I left it with a girlfriend, Pauline. She would get pregnant and miscarry on our bed on the floor, and we would mourn.
 
I was about to meet all of the best friends of my life. I was about to acquire my nickname, Blue. A Martin D-18 guitar was hanging in the Old Town School of Folk Music, waiting for me. Steve Goodman and John Prine, just boys, were going to welcome me into a circle of musicians who played in the guitar showroom. A folk song composer named Art Gorman was writing music in his office, in a church basement, waiting for me. A woman named Linda Knutson, who attended that church, was waiting for my friendship. I would sing at her wedding and meet her boyfriend, David Mulvey, the future best friend of my life. A woman named Marmie Walther was about to volunteer at a weekly Wednesday night dinner for street people, at that same church. Her husband Harry was going to commit suicide two months before my mother was going to be murdered—I was waiting for her solace; she was waiting for mine. I was going to climb mountain ranges and hike thousands of miles and have an Off Broadway play and be named Playwright-in-Residence to my state and teach thousands of kids, many of whom are still with me. It was Act 2. 
 
Now it is Act 3.
 
Let us give thanks.
Let us give thanks.
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