My birthday is in September. And in the fables I tell myself -- which I insist are memories -- my September birthday always coincided with the first day of school and the hottest days of the year.
I would get up in the dark as my father dressed for his job at the Gas Company, open the presents waiting for me (because I have no patience), and then leave for school, where an airless classroom drowsed, the students dripped sweat in heavy cotton uniforms and the nun stood shrouded in her long black gown.
Southern California isn't a desert, but it feels like it's one in September.
September breathes summer's continuation for Angeleños, but in the national imagination, which has no place for Southern California's specificity, September is all about the beginning of a new season. The illustrations in my Dick and Jane reader showed leaves turning orange and russet and brisk winds pulling little Sally's toy umbrella inside out. Outside my classroom window, the asphalt playground shimmered with mirage pools.
In our September, time's arrow misdirects. The imported trees and perennials of the northern temperate zone respond to lessening hours of daylight by getting ready for the snow that never falls, while our too bright days prepare the oily chaparral on our hills to burn in the Santa Anas of October.
Someone on my block was running a Rainbird sprinkler as I walked away from my house this morning, trying to hold back the powers of September through irrigation. The sprinkler cycled through four evenly spaced clicks followed by a whirring passage back to a beginning. The cycle repeated and repeated behind me.
Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, wrote about landscapes where the rhythms in nature are more regular and the relations of men less so. I met him once in New York. We walked together from a hotel to a reading he gave.
Heaney wrote in the collection Wintering Out a short poem titled Travel:
Oxen supporting their heads
into the afternoon sun,
melons studding the hill like brass;
who reads into distance reads
beyond us, our sleeping children
and the dust settling in scorched grass.
September is read in the scorched grass of the lawns on my block, left unwatered for the entire year of this drought. September is in the gardens gone uncultivated. In the distance are the same days and another birthday and dust.