Poetry is the fruit of a plant with deep roots. Deborah Digges (Late in the Millennium, Vesper Sparrows) is a good poet, and Fugitive Spring is a wonderfully written memoir of her childhood in Missouri, her adolescence (summers spent working in her father’s cancer clinic), and her marriage to an Air Force pilot. The book ends before her first poem is published and while her education is incomplete. It is a story of paradise gradually lost with glimpses of a future in which paradise is regained or, at least, in which the loss of paradise is turned into knowledge and poetry.
The book opens in the paradise of the family orchard where Deborah and her nine brothers and sisters work each summer, and where the apples are picked by inmates from a prison farm. The serpent lives in a nearby roadside tourist-trap reptile garden in which the snakes are old, lethargic, and dirty.
It is in Lubbock, Tex. (”called the Hub City, which meant that for miles in every direction there was nothing”), that Deborah Digges, as an Air Force wife, sleepless with a feverish baby, begins her first poem. Her uncomplaining and always generous description of her life in Texas makes it seem as far as possible from the Edenic wilderness of her childhood. Her surroundings are ugly; her husband, through no fault of his own, largely absent.
The latter part of the book is even more affecting than the earlier lyrical and evocative descriptions of her childhood. It seems impossible that the writer, by now living in a condominium near San Bernardino, Calif., will ever break free of the bleakness of her surroundings. Her no longer happy marriage, the demands of motherhood, the lack of intellectual or even adult companionship, the half-assed creative writing course in which she enrolls, the lack of advice and encouragement seem insurmountable obstacles. There is a touching description of how she saves the rejection slips with which magazines return her early poems, valuing them as the most concrete evidence she has that she is indeed a poet. By the end of the memoir we are thrilled by references to two published books of poetry, remarriage, education, and travel. These references are never self-serving; Digges possesses a quality unusual in human beings and rarer still in writers, that of modesty. It’s a characteristic that enhances the considerable appeal of this moving memoir. A-