The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon
Reflections: Charles Knott
Streetcars, Junebugs and the Poet's Fancy
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind's cage-door,
She'll dart forth, and cloudward soar.
I just discovered Cary Bynum's not-too-long-ago published collection of poems entitled Night Streetcars and read it with a keen delight and full enjoyment. The tone of the poems is mellow, gentle, and loving. At times it is poignant how, in a fresh voice, the author seems not to be just revisiting that world but to be saying to that world, I saw you! I remember you! You didn't know I saw you like this, but I did! Coincidentally, I also have childhood memories of Kirkwood, a suburb of Atlanta where some of the poems are set.
Before I even got beyond the title, my mind was set wandering around the concept of streetcars at night. Was there ever such a thing?
During the time of the streetcar I was a child, and I did not visit the city at night, so not just the night streetcar, but the entire night city was invisible to me. My paternal grandfather actually drove a streetcar in Atlanta, and while he would sometimes let me play with the mechanical change maker used to dispense nickles, dimes and quarters to riders paying their fares, he never mentioned anything about the night. As for Kirkwood, that's where my maternal grandparents lived, and I sometimes spent weekends there when I was a child, and yes, Kirkwood had a streetcar, but in my memory, until I read this book, a streetcar had always been a daytime thing.
I do have a flashbulb memory of a magical, childhood moment with the Kirkwood streetcar. I walked down Wyman Street to the edge of the woods (the woods were usually close in suburban America in those days, just down at the end of the block), and I saw the Kirkwood streetcar for the first time as it let off a passenger and moved off into the woods. A streetcar in the woods! Until that moment, streetcars had been only for city streets, and my young mind objected to this new scenario. Wrestling with the concept of a streetcar in the woods, I tried to imagine looking out the streetcar window and seeing, not the cityscape, but trees and forest creatures and maybe even a farm. It was a completely new thought, and it took an infinite moment for my child's brain to accommodate it.
Seeing the title of Bynum's book, my adult brain was momentarily astonished to think that streetcars back then actually moved in the city's night world. I didn't know about streetcars in the night any more than I knew about stars in the daytime sky. I never saw a streetcar at night, and, until I read this book of poems, it never once occurred to me that there was such a thing as a "night streetcar," just as once upon a time it had never occurred to me that the stars are still in place during the daytime—I had to be told, and the realization came as a shock. Once I was told, I thought, Of course! Now, Bynum has made me realize that, just as the external universe doesn't cease to exist during the daytime, neither did streetcars dematerialize when the sun went down. New synapses have formed!
Some of the poetry in this book seems to me that it might have been a meditation that occurred while riding in a street car—riding passively, dreamily, letting someone else worry about traffic and destination. Might Bynum have written these poems while sitting at his desk and taking an imaginary ride in a streetcar of the 1950s?
Many of the images are presented with the wonder and the vivid sensory sharpness of childhood, whether he is in the city (the first grouping of poems) or in the countryside (second grouping). The language is clear and sharp and unpretentious. And there is no lack of poetic fancy. Several of the poems sent me off into my own reminiscences, but I would like to spend some time here with "Astride Junebug."
Pen size, were I astride/ the Junebug's green back,/ buzzing at the end of thread/ tied to one of its back legs,/ I, too, would seek the sky,/ to rise above our city park.
Yet here in my hand/ a tiny Pegasus glisters/ like a Golden Nugget,/ struggling on barbed feet/ toward a freedom he assumes/ will be his for the asking.
Bynum understands the fundamental assumption of the Junebug, which is that freedom is available once it struggles up onto its "barbed feet" and "seeks the sky." Bynum desires to put himself astride this “tiny Pegasus [which] glisters like a Golden Nugget,” and to rise with him above the city park.
Until now, I was impressed with Tommy Tittlemouse, who merely rode a seagull. Now, here's Bynum astride a Junebug! This poem enables me again to feel the June bug's barbed feet as it walks on the back of my hand, again to feel my clumsy fingers tying a loop in a length of my mother's sewing thread to hold the Junebug's leg, again to remember my feelings of envy at the power of flight possessed by the glistering tiny Pegasus.
Knowing and sharing the Junebug's assumption that freedom is there for the taking, Bynum climbs aboard, weathers the struggle of the barbed feet and then, blending his winged fancy's will with the will-to-freedom of the tiny golden Pegasus, they launch skyward together! From his present desk chair to a seat in a 50s streetcar to a Junebug's back, Bynum “opens wide the mind's cage door” and, with the city park disappearing in the distance, “cloudward soars.”
Not bad. And that's just one brief moment in an entire collection of poems!
Thanks to Cary Bynum for making this delightful book.
"Astride Junebug" is presented in its entirety by permission of the author.
See Barbara's full review of the collection at the link below.
Copyright 2016, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.