READING LIST

A good friend, who we had
not seen in COVID time, visited
and we smiled when we saw
that she was reading Heidi,
catching up she said on a too
abbreviated childhood, one
sacrificed to circumstance

My grandson, soon enough
ten, says he is reading
Beowulf, though not the Heaney
translation, so there are two
more books on my books
you must read before you die list.

Despite reading regularly,
the list grows ever longer,
and I am beginning to think
that if I must  complete it,
it may be my best shot, my
only real shot at immortality.

GOING HOME

They say you cannot go home
again, although I have never
had occasion to meet them.

I’ve never been one to follow
the dictates of them, unless they
were my parents or spouse, and
in the case of my parents, often
not even when they demanded it,
so I went back to the home
of my childhood, a shockingly
new place as I remembered it,
setting the neighbors astir
as they saw it go up and out.

It, like I, am older now, but
seemed to have borne time
far more harshly than I.

I do sometimes have a gait
to accommodates arthritic knees,
move a bit slower than I
imagine, but the house seemed
to be looking for its cane
knowing it would soon enough
require a walker, and I knew
that while I could go home
I’d be happier if I didn’t.

FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

LOWER FLAT, BUFFALO

It was a small house, that much
I still remember clearly, not wide,
what some called a railroad flat,
but ours had two floors, as if two
railroad cars had been stacked
one on top of the other.

We, luckily, had the bottom, or
at least that’s what my father said,
and his varicose veined legs applauded
his selection of our new home.

I was less convinced as Mrs. McCarthy
upstairs was a Reubenesque lady, that
was my mother’s term, her sons
were every bit as large, and they
seemed to walk about at all hours,
mostly over my room, leaving me to wonder
amid the creaking, when the ceiling
might suddenly blanket me.

That never happened, and I have no
idea what became of the McCarthy’s,
but I would have buried my father
last year if my step-brother had bothered
to give me the location of the body
in his text telling me of his death.

So I am again an orphan, but in
the process of building a new home
as wide as it is long, and with only
a single floor, and the birds have
promised to be tread lightly at night.

FATHERING

Recalling it now, the sight had to be absurd,
and I suspect it was at the time,
but as its beneficiary then. I dared
not say anything, I’d mastered that already.

My father in khakis and a poor excuse
for a flannel shirt, Goodwill no doubt,
but you had to have one just for occasions
like this, not that they would ever repeat,

struggling mightily to heft a bale of straw
from the roof of the Ford Country Squire wagon,
and haul it into the back yard, placed against
the wooden fence that backed the nursery.

He’d repeat this task two more times, using
language I knew well, but had never heard
him use before, wondering if my mother would
threaten to wash his mouth out with soap.

When the third bale was stacked, he pinned
on a target, and reaching into the trunk,
pulled out a fiberglass recurved bow, smiling
at me as he said, “I know it isn’t what you wanted,

but you are good at archery, the camp gave you
a prize for it, and a new three speed bicycle
isn’t something you need, the old Schwinn is fine,
and the BB gun you wanted is out of the question.”

WRITING MEMORY

It is well past time
I wrote a poem about
the great joys of my childhood,
for memory should bubble up
like lava through the crust of time,
they should rain in flashes
as so much matter dropping
into the atmosphere
in their ultimate light show.
This isn’t going to happen, of course,
whether because memory has
grown dim over time’s distance
or for lack of subject matter.
At 68, the difference hardly matters
for a blank page hardly cares
which pen chooses not to write it.

JUST WATCH

It has been said, wisely,
that all children speak
a common language,
regardless of what adults
believe they are hearing.

The proof of that proposition
is simple enough, pause
and watch a parent make
demands of a child
in the presence
of other children, see
the reluctant child glance
at his foreign peers and gain
silent and instant affirmation
of adult unreasonableness.

When do we cease
being able to communicate
without words, in that
language of childhood
that is at once universal
and capable of silence.

A CHILDHOOD

I have fond memories
of a childhood I never lived.
Those are the best childhoods
from for they reflect life as you
meant it to be lived.
In this life my father
is in his late nineties,
still smiles when he sees me, not
didn’t clutch his chest
sixty-one years ago,
didn’t fall to the floor,
didn’t leave me half
an orphan again,
doesn’t live only
in the periphery
of my dreams.

SLIP SLIDING AWAY

Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan
yesterday morning, when my father
slipped away from his morphine dreams.
Some would argue I cannot be an orphan
at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved
for children, but I am long past
admitting my age, and my behavior
gives no lie to my claim of childhood.
I will continue to miss him, for his dementia
stole him memory by memory over the years,
and I was left to fill the void
with stories of my childhood, remembered
and imagined, to him there was no difference.
I can now fully mourn my birth mother,
gone for years before I found her, and
my birth father, who I can now claim and
at the same time assume dead, more
a commentary on my advancing age
than any reflection on him, save
in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren.
And now the two men who adopted me
and the woman they really wanted,
and I are no longer part of the same package.

INTO THE SOIL

When did we stop being of the soil
and begin to fear it, to tell our children
not to touch the ground, it is dirty when
once it was only dirt, and we
put it in our mouths, from time to time
trying to drive our mothers crazy.
She says if you are going to plant
wear gloves, and when she walks away
I pull them off of my hands and plunge
fingers into the turned and dampened soil.
This, I am convinced, is how it is
supposed to be, how nature intended,
before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch,
before we became the robots
our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated.
Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt
from beneath fingernails, I watch
as it flows reluctantly down the drain
I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood
but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.