Guest Columnist

April brings spring, Paris and poetry. But no hugs

A water bus on the river Seine passes Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, April 20, 2019. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
A water bus on the river Seine passes Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, April 20, 2019. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Somewhere along the line well-meaning members of American society decided that hugging one another when greeting or saying goodbye was an appropriate thing. Thanks to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden I can now speak out about the practice. I’ll be brief. Knock it off; do not hug me. Shake my hand, touch my arm, do a bit of air kissing like celebrities did on the Tonight Show a hundred years ago, but do not hug me. I have always felt uncomfortable when seeing folks leaning in my direction, ready to get intimate, so I step back and throw my hand out for a shake.

Years of therapy won’t help me. Much as I might adore you, I don’t want to smell your hair, your aftershave, your cologne, your body odor, or your perfume, even if it is Tabu and reminds me of my high school girlfriend. You were never my high school girlfriend, (lucky you) so I beg of you, keep your distance. There, now I feel better.

Out here spring has sprung, initially somewhat reluctantly. Years ago I picked up a bushel of iris bulbs and planted them around the edges of clearings in my woods. Their blooms make me smile every day. I planted them because I enjoy the notion that a century from now a random person will walk across the land and wonder how in the world such a thing could be growing in the wild.

It’s early evening as I write this and thirteen deer are grazing in the meadow in front of my house. I can unofficially report that the deer population seems to have done well, surviving a long, harsh winter. I see their tracks everywhere, beautiful impressions looking a bit like an outline of human lungs. Not far from here in Wisconsin many deer died over the winter from what is called Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological disease that causes the brain to deteriorate to a point wherein the deer can no longer function on their own, so they die. If it’s anything like the dementia I’ve seen in human beings I feel extremely sad for them.

As the deer graze out front, French voices are speaking at me through the wireless, telling me about the destruction of Notre-Dame des Paris by a great fire. It’s difficult to hear. I have spent time in that dark, extraordinary cathedral, climbing the north tower to hang with the beautiful, spooky gargoyles that overlook all of Paris from a great height. Word is that in the 19th century the cathedral was falling in to disrepair when the country’s best poet and novelist Victor Hugo wrote a bit of literature that caused the French government to allocate resources to fix it up. The book, of course, was the one we know today as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Speaking of literature and poetry, in 1996 somebody or other designated April as National Poetry Month and the designation stuck. I like the notion of a poetry month. Public education pretty well ruined poetry for me, as I’m sure it does to this day for most young people. I wish there was some other way to introduce children to poetry. Much later, as an adult, I came to embrace it and currently there are roughly 300 books of poetry on my shelves, yet the poetry I like best is the inadvertent, unintentional stuff. Years ago a Dairy Queen in a nearby town offered a wonderful bit of poetry in its window. “Let us know if it’s to go and we’ll put a lid on it.” No vague, erudite pomposity in that one.

The deer have moved on, but they’ll be back. Like so much else they will be here long after I am gone, as will poetry, music, irises planted by old men and, with any kind of luck, a cathedral in France called Notre-Dame des Paris.

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• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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