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Front-porch Sitting



It'll be summer soon. Big, hulking, nausea-spewing summer, the one with the determined jaws and tearing teeth just waiting for your air-cooled skin to step away from the High Cool of the Frigidaire.

But it's not quite here yet, this summer suffocation, and you're not quite there yet. Pause at this front porch, this sliver of a wind-swept front porch. Pull up a chair. That unpainted Adirondack rocker will do just fine.

The weather is crucial, of course. The summer sun and the clouds of rain have sung a truce, so the old struggle between the Blue and the Gray will mean pleasantries for those on porches.

Those porches are patrolled by lizards, some brown, some green, all trying to decide how best to hide from the rest of the world. Nearest my porch is a hibiscus bush busting out with orange blossoms and the beige-green muscles of the trunks of crepe myrtle trees. Pollen is everywhere, powdered and in pods. It helps you realize the huge amounts of pollen needed for a small amount of procreation.

There are people to be seen. A fine woman walking her Malamute; he must sense every slight advance of summer. The guy next door talking loudly into his cell phone; is that accent Brazilian? Ukrainian?

And most conspicuous of all, peeping from behind tinted windows, busloads of those who want to view catastrophe from a safe distance. It's like watching people on a ride at an amusement park. Turistas. Bah, humbug.

But between the curved and narrow streets full of the hurry of these people and their cars is the unhurried roll of that which makes the view from this porch so special: the Bayou St. John. The soft-rolling sheen of the bayou shows that things don't have to be furious to be inexorable.

From time to time, the shimmer of the water gives way to the snap and flash of a mullet. Are they airborne to escape something " or because they can get there? And there, the slow life of part of a back and fin. What is that " gar or carp? Better yet " a mystery.

A mallard couple. He wagging his tail, bobbing his head. She coyly bathing. Then a short flurry, he on top of she, wild splashing. They swim off together, soft psyches showing. As is often the case, there is more before and after to sex than the sex itself.

Later a hungry duck and only a few feet away, the questing head of a turtle, neither quite certain of their place in all this. The duck's head goes under the water. The turtle's goes way out. Take at good look at where you can't stay.

Look up and see sparrows, egrets, gulls, pigeons, parrots, each in turn or sometimes all together. The eternal enmity between crow " deliberate wing flaps " and mockingbird " insistent wing flaps " swirls overhead.

Then in the midst of all this motion, the motionless part, the still life that makes this a still-life painting: bridges and bushes and things of that sort.

Near the corner of the porch flies the flag. Ever so often, the wind lifts it, turns it and pops the air with it, and it vaguely sounds like the rig-ropes of a tethered sailboat.

The flag is large and strange. Red and gold, with the emblem of a Medusa head intertwined with pods of grain, all atop three running legs. It's the national flag of Sicily, in case you're on a quiz show and someone asks.

Someone else may ask: Why no Stars and Stripes or Stars and Bars, anyhow? I think of James Branch Cabell in Near a Flag in Summer, writing every day near the Republic's flag and remembering, 'that these so large and impassive skies have seen over-many flags and far too many winters. With all the aforesaid national standards which but recently paraded through my mind, and with some thousands of other national standards now forever evicted from human reverence into oblivion's scrap-pile I wonder that my friend, Mr. John F. Atkins, the night watchman, should think it worth his while to be hoisting this doomed bit of bunting every morning and to be lowering it at sunset precisely." So why not Sicily?

A monarch butterfly rests for a moment on the tip of the flagpole. Its seasonal time is over, like the autonomous glidings of the pelicans that patrol the bayou from winter though spring, and like some things past their time, it is grand. At least its wings are grand; don't look too long at its body. Near everything lovely is a caterpillar.

And here there are many things lovely, and most of them here for the viewing pleasure of the Lord of the Porch, rocking in his Adirondack, sipping ice cubes swimming in a sea of lemonade, master of all he surveys, and from here that can be plenty. It is my Caliphate of Self-Containment, and in the middle of what is mostly only current, it provides me with something of the world's originality, with a simplicity that is simply serene.

That's how it is on a porch. Plenty to look out on, even if not much to see. I like it fine and I like it plenty. Come on, summer. Take your best shot.

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