Words failed him again. They did so ever more often it seemed, but it was possible it was merely that he was trying to express ever more complex ideas ideas in terms others would comprehend. A picture might not be worth a thousand words, but if you had that many, odds are some would be correct. And the listener could sort out which were and which were not. He had made up some words that fit perfectly, but they only drew stares, so he took to drawing pictures. Then he could attach his words and they would mean exactly what he was defining — picture dictionary that anyone could grasp. Well, not anyone perhaps, but most people if they would be the least bit patient. His friends had learned that patience, as he was patient with them in return. But his parents were another matter, never willing to slow down and really listen, always just searching for words that failed them.
You have to stop and wonder,
the child said, why people
can take joy in killing, why
people can scheme each other,
why people can cheat if they can.
Birds, the child added, only
try and scheme people for food,
why they cheat for the sake
of cheating, kill for pleasure,
yet we say we are the higher species.
Perhaps, the child concludes,
it is we who are standing
on our heads, looking up
the species ladder, and we
are actually on the bottom.
There are things children know
that parents will never understand.
Odder still, things a person knows
as a child are forgotten in adulthood.
A child measures the success of a day
by the duration of the parent
demanded bath at its end.
A child know that boundaries, especially
those parentally set, are flexible
and you don’t know where
the limit is until you cross it.
Presents are not special, they are
expected periodically, and only
a parent imagines that Santa
would ignore a child no matter
how “bad” the child had been.
But happily, when a parent
crosses the boundary into the land
of grandparenting, somehow
the knowledge of the child
is refound, very often accompanied
by one or more conspiratorial winks.
He was well on his way
to achieving his dream
of being a musical idol.
He had long since mastered
the air guitar, could shred
with the best, Hendrix,
Clapton, and he had conquered
the piano fingerings of most
of the Billy Joel Songbook,
his paper keyboard worn flat.
Clarence Clemons was proving
a serious challenge, the air sax
was by reputation the most
difficult of all the instruments.
He could taste success, and all
he now needed to do was
convince his parents to buy
an instrument and pay for lessons.
My parents, well my father,
always felt is was necessary
to stop on the way to our summer home
in the Western Adirondacks
to visit Uncle Morris, who may
or may not have been an uncle
in the blood sense, it was never clear.
It was he who sold my father the cottage
near the small lake, he who now
lived in a nursing home in Schenectady.
Morris was sweet, frail, but still
wanted my father to play
a couple of hands of pinochle,
which drove my mother crazy,
but she loved the cottage,
and Morris sold it to them
for a song to keep it in the family.
I liked watching them play,
never understood the game,
and hated the name Schenectady,
but we’d always go for an early dinner
at the Chinese Buffet across
from the store Morris owned for years.
I was only in jail once,
then for four hours, no charges
and my biggest fear was that
my parents would find out,
or the cops would determine
that I was only 17 and breaking
the park curfew was not
even a misdemeanor.
They let me go, gave me
a ride back to the park,
told me not to go in but
I wouldn’t at 2 A.M.
I assured them,
I’d go home and get some slee
before reporting to the University
for my summer research position.
All these years later I wonder
if that was possibly the cell
that Joe Hill occupied once,
or just what other manner
of criminal I might have
shared space with, hopefully
someone not merely charged
with violating park curfew.
She always told him
that he should, no must,
“look before you leap.”
He said he understood
and would do so, almost
always, he was after all
a child and no promise
could be that absolute.
When he came out
of the anesthesia,
his arm and leg
in a cast, he saw her
scowling at him.
“I did,” he said, “I did,
I looked for quite a while
before I jumped
off the garage roof,
just like you told
me I had to do.”
I can still recall
the day my mother
was ecstatic on learning
that everything grew
out of a primordial soup.
It was proof, she
was certain, of a Jewish
God, even if he didn’t
do it all with his own hands.
And, with a broad smile
she said, I’m fairly certain
at the soup
was chicken, maybe
with kreplach on the side.
I knew you’d show up in my dream,
it was a matter of time and faith,
or perhaps just playing the averages,
sooner or later became sooner, that’s all.
You had nothing to say, but that, too
was to be expected, for I have never
heard your voice, and imagine it akin
to the voice of the GPS or perhaps Siri.
It was just you, not him, it is never him,
and you looked just like you did
in junior year, before you dropped out
when the money got tight during the war.
I have spoken to the other mother, she
carries on monologues so I have cut back
on her visits, that much control I still
maintain over my dreamscape, no more.
My second father wonders if it is strange
being awash in parents, as does my third,
yet at the same time parentless, but
it’s okay, I tell them, after all, I am an orphan.