You Are Spring

Dora Malech
March 21, 2016
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The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

—from “The Trees” by Philip Larkin

Thirteen years ago in March 2003, the final semester of my senior year of college, I returned from spring break to campus to the news—first delivered by email from an administrator—that Patrick Flynn Eckenrode had committed suicide. Flynn had been my Freshman Counselor, meaning that when he was a senior, he lived in the same building as our incoming class to—in the language of the Freshman Counselor Program Application Procedures for 2016-17—”help ease the transition of incoming freshmen to the academic, social, and cultural life of Yale College.” I met Flynn in 1999, and he took his own life four years later, when I was a senior, though I was not a Freshman Counselor. We had not been in touch for some time. I was living off campus and not easing anyone’s transition but my own.

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.

—from “Spring” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Studies have documented that suicide rates rise in the spring. In David Dobbs’s 2013 piece for The New York Times, “Clues in the Cycle of Suicide,” the author muses that “spring somehow adds weight to an already unbearable load,” pointing to the “‘broken promise effect'” as one “traditional candidate . . . the sometimes crushing disappointment that spring fails to bring the relief the sufferer has hoped for.” Other cause-and-effect candidates noted in the article include melatonin, agitation, tree pollen, inflammation.

Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides . . .

—from “Alcove” by John Ashbery

Flynn did, indeed, ease my transition to college. He had a gentle presence; he had a wry sense of humor; he was a careful thinker. Most importantly, to me, he wrote songs and poetry, and he read poetry. He loved John Ashbery, and a highlight of my freshman year was taking the Metro North train into New York City with Flynn to hear Ashbery read. I remember the reading being at the KGB Bar, but I might be misremembering. I took a picture of Flynn in front of “Flynn’s School of Herbology.” He humored me. He was kind like that.

Flynn

The immense hope, and forbearance
Trailing out of night, to sidewalks of the day
Like air breathed into a paper city, exhaled
As night returns bringing doubts . . .

—from “Spring Day” by John Ashbery

Others will remember Flynn better. This was a time of life when a few years felt like they made a big difference—the seniors seemed to be on the other side of something already. I admired them from afar. I remember his friends as writers, musicians. One of those college friends of Flynn’s was Elizabeth Hazen, whose debut collection of poetry, Chaos Theories, has just been published this spring by Alan Squire Publishing, an imprint of the Santa Fe Writers Project. I had the honor of reading an advance proof of her book, of which I wrote the following:

In Elizabeth Hazen’s Chaos Theories, a made world of family, birth, art, and intimacy finds itself reflected in a vast universe of fault-lines, physics, fossils, and stars. These echoes of order and disorder ring out in the sure rhythms of Hazen’s ear and the precision of her imagery and figures. As Hazen explores cause and effect, action and reaction, her poems chart the “path of time from next to next,” when “One day / my son’s mouth will bloom with teeth, then questions, / secrets.” In Chaos Theories, time haunts us with decisions and memories, but time also reveals the world’s recursive wonders, if we can only look and listen as Hazen teaches us to do.

Hazen ends her acknowledgements with the following:

And Patrick Flynn Eckenrode—so many of these poems are for you. I wish you were here to read them.

At age 26, Flynn “lost his battle with severe depression, March 5, 2003, at his home.”

Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.

—from “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” by William Carlos Williams

It has been a while since I have searched for memories of Flynn. The constellation of those who remember him remains so much closer than I might have imagined. Elizabeth Hazen, just a few miles away, must remember so much more than I can. And, to my surprise, an Internet search turns up Bonnie Jones (a writer and musician I met around this time last year—last spring—when I read poetry at “a night of sound and text” she curated at The Red Room at Normal’s Books & Records here in Baltimore, about which I wrote my first Kenyon Review blog post around this time last year, last spring). I had no idea that she had known Flynn too, but it is on her WordPress site that I find what I had hoped to find—Flynn’s poetry: “In Memory of Flynn / FLYNN ECKENRODE POETRY—This Adobe PDF book was created in memory of my friend Flynn. ‘From the Books That They Read Us of Love.'”

You are with
The orange tree, so that its summer produce
Can go back to where we got it wrong, then drip gently
Into history, if it wants to.

—from “Spring Day” by John Ashbery

You need not die today.
Stay here—through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

—from “To the Young Who Want to Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks

A song will make light of the forest gloom.
And here we are all making plans for it. I will make
invitations to it. There will be a party to this end.
No one will be left out. Even the sentimentalists will show zeal.
And they will whisper, one to the other, with remarkable tenderness, Come along with me as I sing to you.
You are blessed and new, though you are old.
You are blessed and new, though you are old.

—from “It’s August, I’m Happy Again,” by Patrick Flynn Eckenrode

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