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Tom Chaney: R717 - The catalpa's white week

Of writers and their books. Essay The Catalpa's White Week
The next latest Tom Chaney column: Rumpole and the Primrose Path. A review of book by John Mortimer

By Tom Chaney
"The Catalpa's White Week . . ."
(With apologies again to John Ciardi)
What a strange spring this is! Unusual heat followed by freezation.

With memories of last April's ice storm fresh in mind, we held our breath through a warm March -- topping out at ninety.

Maple leaves emerged tiny and green.

Tickled into early bloom, the silly forsythia gave us gold for a while.

Easter hope crystallized in ice.

The maple trees again were stripped. Ice last April, cold this time.

Forsythian gold ended in black frost.

Shrubs in dooryards -- bleak and brown -- may not recover.

We waited -- a tardy spring finally arrived with belated normality.

I have been anxious about the town's old catalpa tree.

Shivering there in the park, confronting destruction by fire and man's depredation, its white week seemed delayed.

Relieved, we watched it slowly leave and hesitantly bloom.

Catalpas are not much use.

John Ciardi catches the essence of catalpa in his poem by that name.
That tree's a nuisance, really. Long before
the summer's out, its beans, long as a stick,
will start to shed. And every year one limb
cracks without falling off and hangs there dead.
But this week our tree again "has its arms full of its own flowering now."

A few days of bloom, then showers of white cascading down, swirling around the town's ruins. It stands -- despite fire and bulldozer -- trying to stem time's malediction.

We have the catalpa for
its one white pass . . .
all else, the world remembering what it was
in the seven days of its visible miracle.
What should I keep if averages were all?
Each year at The Bookstore we post the complete poem by John Ciardi in our window through which one has a full view of the catalpa in its one white pass.

Stop by.

Read the poem as the annual beauty across the way fades -- framed by civic fire and man's cruel ruin.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749. Phone (270) 786-3084. email: Tom Chaney
The BOOKSTORETo see links to other Tom Chaney essays and book reviews, enter "Tom Chaney" in the search box

This story was posted on 2011-05-22 14:02:02
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The famed Horse Cave, Hart Co., KY, town Catalpa

2011-05-22 - Horse Cave, KY: Just west of the railroad tracks in Horse Cave, Kentucky, opposite The Bookstore - Photo by Gene Bowen. You may know it as: Catalpa, Catawba, Indian Bean, Cigar Tree or Fish Bait Tree, but chances are if you live in the United States, you have seen this unique tree. Catalpa is a true tree of the people, surviving in all kinds of conditions from polluted cities to windswept prairies. Native Americans utilized the Catawba long before settlers arrived in the New World, but the settlers soon recognized the value of the Catalpa and carried it with them across the country. With Catalpa's ability to survive most conditions and grow rapidly, and its bonus of beautiful, fragrant flowers, it was the pioneers' choice of trees to plant on a new homestead. -GENE BOWEN. Copyright Gene Bowen, posted with permission.
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