I recently drove across a few states to help my brother move. He spent his last hurried weeks in Tucson wrapping up work projects, packing all of his belongings, saying so long to family and friends. When we finally got on the road, the last weekend in September, we reached the Dragoon Mountains outside of town at sunset. A creosote and dust smell on the wind alerted us to the rain before we saw the storm—one last monsoon.
My brother said, “This is the last time I’ll be smelling this for a while.”
“Me too,” I responded. We stayed in a wistful moment, acknowledged an ending, and we kept driving through the rain.
Monsoon does this to desert dwellers: it draws our attention to subtle changes in the seasons, in our experiences and expectations of our home, marks a clear ending and beginning. In a place with such uniform weather (I believe Tucson has 360+ days of sun a year?), any variation is amplified, beauties made more resonant.
As I mentioned in posts before this, some of my favorite poems build with a similar intensity of monsoons, and so, as I tried to say goodbye to a brother moving away and to the monsoon season drawing to a close, I looked to poems to teach me how to learn about endings.
Many poems I love end with a clear sense of resolution, of closure (though that is not to say that anything has necessarily been resolved—just the poem). The poet and readers have journeyed together, found an exact, if not also surprising, exit. Take, for example, the last lines of one of my favorite poems, Jack Gilbert’s “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart.” This is a poem that meditates on the precise failings of language to capture feelings, yet, where we land with Gilbert is a surprising list of words that do name feelings: “…What we feel most has / no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.” (You can listen to the whole poem here.) Gilbert ends the poem succinctly, yet the end also creates an opening for readers to explore their own languages of importance.
Alice Jones further describes the power of a poetic closure in her essay, “Now We’re Out of Time: Thoughts on Endings in Poetry and Psychoanalysis:” “The poet is orchestrating the passage of time as much as the sounds of the words. Her choice of how to exit the poem completes this orchestration and the reader’s experience of how time evolves. As the poem ends, the readers has to take in the fact of limit, finiteness, ending. As this occurs, the reader has her first view of the poem as a whole, experiencing the impact of creation right at the moment of letting it go.”
After such loud and large storms, my brother and I witnessed this summer draw to a surprisingly quiet close in this one brief storm. It lasted just a few minutes, just a few miles as we drove through it—an ending and a beginning, a goodbye to Arizona and a hello to a different future for my brother.
I love the experience of seasons changing, particularly summer to autumn, just as I love when the ending of a poem can both satisfy and mystify at once. There is an ending, sure—and yet, it signals that something else will begin.