Each morning we stood as the Principal intoned the Pledge of Allegiance over the tinny PA system. One morning as we rose, hands over hearts, we noticed someone had put up the Canadian flag in the holder over the door. The Principal threatened to call all of our parents unless the guilty party came forward, and we struggled vainly to swallow our giggles. No one came forward and they found the Stars and Stripes stuck in a large mixing bowl in the kitchen. The Principal scheduled an assembly to remind us of our need to honor the flag and the country, because it stood for all that was good, for all that we had and that everyone else wanted, but we were under our desks in the painful tuck position we would assume if they ever dropped the bomb. They didn’t tell us that if we were close enough to ground zero the position would let us leave a neater shadow on the floor. Some days we sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee all except for Larry who preferred God Save the Queen until the Principal told him it was sacrilege, since we created it and the Brits stole it. Years later, outside the Federal Building the Principal, now retired and girding for battle with Social Security, saw me, protest sign in hand, flag sewn across the seat of my jeans. He stared, then looked away ashamed at still another failure, not like his two sons who lay in eternal repose in the Federal cemetery on the Island of Oahu.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press, (2008)
He liked nothing better then to sit outside his small cottage and stare into the pond once the blaze on the water set by the sun was consumed as fire must always be by water. As night deepened, he stared into the sky, seeing the moon slowly rise, chasing along the sun’s now deserted path. He knew the myriad of stars shared his interest, staring but he abandoned the sky as the sun had yet again, and watched as the voracious pond slowly consumed the ever fewer stars, and saw the pond’s moon take up its liquid dance to the tune of the night breeze
It was a Thursday in August when he first noticed it. It was an unusually cool day, not the sort you’d expect in the middle of summer, but he knew the weather was ever more unpredictable. He was certain it hadn’t been there the day before, but he was surprised it was still there the day after, albeit ever so slightly larger. When he asked the elders about it, they merely laughed. “It is what you get for suddenly giving him a bedtime after dark,” his father said, “wait until he discovers the stars.”
The night fully settles
over northern Minnesota
in the sky grows dark
as the stars make
their reluctant appearance.
Peering through the tall grasses
of the wetlands abutting the road
1000 stars are born
and die in an instant
only to be reborn again
they are replaced by
the beetles that accompany
the slowly rising sun.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
I could never understand as a child why the moon was female, the sun always male, and most stars but ours had Arabic names. Now makes much more sense to me, the moon is never one to hog the sky and even when she commands more than her usual space, you only want to stare at her in rapture, while the sun is so vain you can stare only briefly and must look away, and he is as likely to hide or flee when he is most wanted, as a calming, steady presence. As for the names of all the others, they don’t sound like ours, and so we cast them off as aliens to our small, smug world
He watched as the flame licked at the lip of the candle, the wax slowly conceding and falling in, forming the cradle on which the flame danced. He wondered how something as simple as a wax cylinder could have an inherent knowledge of beauty and simplicity and yet he stared at it certain the knowledge was there. He dared not put out the flame for he could not deprive the night of this momentary beauty when it’s love, the moon had chosen to retreat leaving the stars to mock their small, immature brother.
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.