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.
They gather this time every week, they would feel lost if they did otherwise. The don’t do it out of any sense of duty or higher calling, and they expect nothing in return for having done so. They aren’t even following directions or obeying some unwritten rule. They object to most rules, demand logic before even pausing to consider requests for action. Holidays do throw off their schedule but they work around them as best they can. Theirs is a joyous group and only the swings groan under their laughter as their feet reach up to kick the clouds, before night falls on the playground.
His is six and deeply confused, and asks questions to end that state. He wants to know if Adam and Eve had two sons, and one killed the other, where did all of the people come from? Ask your father seems and easy answer, but one he cannot accept, too easy for a mind that needs timely response. I stumble around, try to deflect, and finally admit I don’t know but that some stories cannot be taken literally. He knows what that word means, and it is a sufficient explanation for now. In a week we’ll have the conversation once again, this time not Adam, not Eve, but Shem, Ham and Japheth, and how the three sons of Noah repopulated the entire planet, and I will once again admit to my sad lack of knowledge, and silently curse the Religious School for creating the abyss into which my grandson is all to pleased to lead me.
We were the crown princes, then, with an occasional princess, though that was more to maintain the peace. Our kingdom was a square block, and we dominion over all of our territory save the two minefields, well-marked, kept by the Strauss and Herlihy fiefdoms, who refused to pay homage to us, denied us our just due, and suffered such consequences as we could muster in the dark of a late October night. We four, Larry, Buddy, Sheldon and I roamed our kingdom, and one day, drunk with power and Nehi, scaled the border masquerading as a fence and entered the neighboring kingdom, cavorting until its army of one chased us away with a shout, “It’s a private school and you don’t belong here,” before hobbling back into the building he was far too black to enter save in uniform. We are old now, have long since abdicated our thrones and struggle only to retain our memories.
The salmon people don’t live here anymore you have moved them up the river, then inland so they no longer need to wander.
The salmon do not swim here anymore you have dammed the rivers to draw out their power and penned the mighty fish where the river first licks the sea.
The eagle doesn’t fly here anymore the great pines that sat for generations below his aerie are now cut into neat supports on which we hang our walls.
Our children do not run here anymore they have moved to the cities, have gone off to wars for fighting is the only job which they are given.
We have no rivers we have no salmon we have no sons, save those who sleep under neat white stones. We look for the eagle a mighty spirit but he, too, has been claimed by the others to decorate their buildings. We have only our spirit to guide us and we know that soon you will claim them too and leave us as you arrived to repeat the sad story.
In a bit less
than an hour
a new exhibit
empty space will
bodies of artist
universes will form
a thousand children
will be born
an old man in
a distant city
will slip away
a contented look
will ask why
but all of that
is not now,
but in a bit