If you ever get the chance to watch “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (it’s a highly-regarded Australian film), watch it. (Hence, where I got the idea for the title.)
Picnic at Hanging Garden
It isn’t quite Labor Day—
women are still wearing white,
though many wear dresses that
compete with the flowers,
perfume that commingles with
the clover that sweetens the air.
There is merry to be made,
lemonade to be drank—
tart as the cherry pies that sit cooling
on Miss Bennion’s booth.
There are games of horseshoes,
old pillowcase races,
and cupcake eating contests—
each vying for the most participants.
The young mayor—
all of thirty-one—
sweats in his Sunday suit,
as he shakes hands with the good people
of Poplarville, Missouri.
The scene is reminiscent of
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,
except these are simpler people,
placed in modern times.
The atmosphere is charged,
Music from time gone by
floats on the air from
four men in red and white,
crisscrossing with the American Flag in the background—
like an optical illusion.
A pile of shoes are heaped at the foot of a tree—
the tree where half the town has carved their initials.
The children go barefoot in the muddy creek,
the boys rolling up their jeans,
the girls raising the hemlines of their dresses,
the boys trying to splash the girls,
the girls trying to run away.
Rows of tables are arrayed like the lilies of the field—
fried chicken, corn on the cob, watermelon,
and fudge that melts in the hot, hot sun.
Not the finest banquet halls in Cape Girardeau
are arrayed such as these.
The smaller children pile into the hayride,
and men raffle for picnic dates with the ladies…
and their baskets.
Miss Lilly White fetches the highest bid
for her turkey sandwiches and lukewarm coffee,
for there is always Tapper’s Drug Store
or Alice’s Diner,
whose coffeepot never sleeps.
There is no tent but the leafy shade of the poplar trees,
and the clouds that float across the blue of heaven unseen.
The cemetery is just back apiece,
yonder, towards the rock garden built by the first settlers.
The mayor’s wife rings the triangle;
it is like a cattle call.
All the little lambs come running
with their rosy, dirty cheeks,
the women like wilted flowers,
their petals sagging like wet handkerchiefs,
the men with their shirts that have darkened with sweat.
The bandstand is reconfigured,
and the final star of the night appears—
like the last blast of fireworks.
He is accompanied by two men,
one shoe off,
one shoe on,
like Diddle Diddle Dumpling.
Nothing must happen to him,
for his appearance is why they’ve come.
Everyone gathers round,
the waning sun warring with the waxing moon
making the faces of the people glow like halos.
The children are suddenly quiet,
and everyone is instructed to hold their applause.
Introductions are made,
and silence falls over the sheep.
All that build-up,
and it is over in a second.
There is a pregnant pause
that gives birth to life and animation,
to making a joyous noise.
The Devil had come into their garden,
and now sways from three neckties
boneless as a snake.
His second shoe drops just then,
but no one was listening.
No one hears.