One of the great mysteries of the seasons to me is that the first day of summer is also the longest of the year. Had I been consulted when the grand master calendar of the universe was aligned, I’d have suggested that the longest day fall at summer’s midpoint, not on its first day. For a person living in a place where snow is always possible in May, practically guaranteed in April, and set to return as early as October, the convergence of summer’s first day and the year’s longest day helps solidify the sense that some things are on their way out almost before they arrive.
Alas, I was not consulted, and so last week my social media feeds were filled with photographs of pool parties and Solstice bonfires in celebration of the Northern Hemisphere’s share of the North Pole’s 24 four hours of fun in the sun. To help you stretch out these summer days as long as possible, we’ve gathered up a great collection of summer poems, from dandelions to love on the beach to patio umbrellas and everything in between (including the mosquitoes).
1. from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene I
I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamelled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.
— William Shakespeare, for more see Complete Sonnets and Poems
2. The Dandelion
O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate’s triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o’er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.
— Vachel Lindsay, for more see Works of Vachel Lindsay
3. Indiana, Summer
The land longs for rain,
but when it falls, it falls
for a few minutes, then lifts like spirits
to haunt the afternoon
to settle on our clothes
to draw the moisture out of our skins
like parodies, in poor taste.
Where there are no sidewalks
you will step on sand and gravel
between broken pavements
of empty lots, walking past
the dollar store and the tree with leaves
that drip like warm green
icicles. The sad little La Palma restaurant.
I think it sad, and little, that they
could only afford the one
palma. But after all these homes
are half abandoned and there’s just one
car at the Subway, and you are
a guest here anyway,
so sit down, let your sweat
dry by the window unit
and sip your margarita.
4. The Vanity of the Dragonfly
The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell—
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.
— Nancy Willard, author of The Sea at Truro
The butterflies are drying
their newly opened wings in the sun
in the breeze to crumbs
of soil and grass blades
If cognition were possible
wouldn’t terror be the first response
to the pageantry of wings grown
from your own back tugging
lifting you into the wind
anxious as any being
of its known world?
— Christine Gelineau, author of Appetite for the Divine
When my father wanted to point out galaxies
or Andromeda or the Seven Sisters, I’d complain
of the huzz of mosquitoes, or of the yawning
moon-quiet in that slow, summer air. All I wanted
was to go inside into our cooled house and watch TV
or paint my nails. What does a fifteen-year-old girl
know of patience? What did I know of the steady turn
of whole moon valleys cresting into focus?
Standing there in our driveway with him,
I smacked my legs, my arms, and my face
while I waited for him to find whatever pinhole
of light he wanted me to see. At night, when I washed
my face, I’d find bursts of blood and dried bodies
slapped into my skin. Complaints at breakfast about
how I’d never do it again, how I have more homework
now, Dad. How I can’t go to school with bites all over
my face anymore, Dad. Now—I hardly
ever say no. He has plans to go star-gazing
with his grandson and for once, I don’t protest
He has plans. I know one day he won’t ask me,
won’t be there to show me the rings of Saturn
glowing gold through the eyepiece. He won’t be there
to show me how the moons of Jupiter jump
if you catch them on a clear night. I know
one day I will look up into the night sky
searching, searching—I know the mosquitoes
will still have their way with me—
and my father won’t hear me complain.
— Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Lucky Fish
Let the mosquito
land. Then you can
—L.L. Barkat, author of Love, Etc.: poems of love, laughter, longing & loss
8. Photo of a Girl on a Beach
Once when I was harmless
and didn’t know any better,
a mirror to the front of me
and an ocean behind,
I lay wedged in the middle of daylight,
paper-doll thin, dreaming,
then I vanished. I gave the day a fingerprint,
I sat naked on a towel
on a hot June Monday.
The sun etched the inside of my eyelids,
while a boy dozed at my side.
The smell of all oceans was around us—
steamy salt, shell, and sweat,
but I reached for the distant one.
A tide rose while I slept,
and soon I was alone. Try being
a figure in memory. It’s hollow there.
For truth’s sake, I’ll say she was on a beach
and her eyes were closed.
She was bare in the sand, long,
and the hour took her bit by bit.
— Carmen Giménez Smith, author of Odalisque in Pieces
9. Summer in Love
Above our town square
June air into weeping.
Night dew compliments
until you and I are soaked
in the shirtsleeves worn by a body
we both live inside.
The lone being hugs
feet to brick sidewalks
while church bells clamor
more dirge than serenade
for our attention.
You put up our hair,
less to break us from the heat
and more for lips celebrating neck.
The hymn of our mouth music
makes rain, fells the stars
into lightning flashes,
booms over the courthouse
to rock railroad tracks,
silences the whistle
of streams of locomotives
with less heat than
our one body.
— Dave Malone, author of Seasons in Love
10. My Bare-Chested Husband Wrestles the Patio Umbrella
And under her wings, his elbows
splash. She aims
to have him
suckle, is not fighting back
but envelops him, has the upper hand
her broken wood frame buckling
him closer. From where I sit
in the air conditioning I try
not to laugh: I will
wake my son,
spilled across my belly
in slumber, having drunk from me
his fill. Outside,
the man emerges, swipes at
the curls on his forehead,
the pallid skin above his navel, goes back
under. What is more
their dance, part praying
mantis, part braying dog,
is the jealousy
I feel. Not sour. Lo, camaraderie,
rises from me, June-lorn.
— Susanna Childress, author of Entering the House of Awe
And here’s a bonus 11th poem, to help us look at the bright side when these summer days come to an end:
I shall not
—L.L. Barkat, author of Love, Etc.: poems of love, laughter, longing & loss
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