Light leaves

"The light lies layered in the leaves." James Schuyler once began a poem called "Song" with that line. He was writing about watching people play tennis on a summer evening, how the light kept changing for the longest time, until finally it was no longer possible to continue playing or writing.

But that’s precisely what’s best about summer – the light. At 8 p.m., you’re sitting with amigos around a table in the backyard having dinner, no candles or lamps, just the glow of the sinking sun backlighting the scene. Someone reaches for the pasta primavera as you down a glass of whatever wets your whistle – and movements take on the vividness of filmed events, lit for emphasis by Horst or Fellini.

Or it’s 8:30 and you’re cruising in the getaway car to parts unknown, with Stony Creek, Kensington, the Irish Hills or Point Pelee receding in your rearview mirror. Any behind-the-wheel necking that you’ve planned will have to wait awhile, ’cause it’s still plenty light out. Instead you check out the roadside fruit and vegetable stands, the red ripe tomatoes, the fragrant melons.

Or maybe Lake St. Clair froths up whitecaps from the freighters whose bow and stern signals are already lit – and you can see a flotilla of white sailboats heading for the finish line off Belle Isle. The mansions on Lakeshore Drive, their windows in shadow, seem to frown as you drive by, since the faintly luminous lake is so much more seductive.

At 9 p.m., the light promises to linger awhile, allowing you one last bit of weeding or pruning, and it’s time to put a match to the citronella pots. Kids around driveway backboards keep launching threes from downtown or laying in bunnies, no sweat, but the sightlines start to fade into that preobscurity when luck and intuition get added to practice and in-your-face skill.

Now’s the time for walking, after the glare has drained back into the sky. Most folks are watering their lawns and you splash through the puddles on your way to nowhere in particular. Where to go, what to do, who cares? Summer night’s coming, but there’s just enough light left, at 9:30 or 9:45, to claim a few last moments for day.

TVs in wide-open houses fling their electric-blue auras into the street, burping and humming their shows and canned laughter to one and all – though some of the neighbors would rather sit on porches and stare at the leaves turning deep green to black by the minute. It’s a scene of beauty mixed with sadness, one that many would avoid thinking about.

The immense summer night, sinking down on streets and fields filling up with shadow, unites the city and suburbs and surrounding countryside into one big human family. Quietly we sit, as Schuyler wrote in the last line of his poem, "in light no longer layered."