Tag Archives: childhood

Square with Rounded Corners

The picture of the two of us,
pulled from my suit-coat pocket,
leans on my dresser.

Square with rounded corners,
faded blue ink–
Kodak May 1980–
printed on the back.

I scanned it for my lock screen, too,
so I can see myself
leaning up against her in the slanted spring light.

The first few days after
Mom taught me how to die
were simpler–

but when I walk outside,
leaves are turning,
afternoons are darker now.

Lazy Ovals

I’ve scolded my son for riding
the old green bike
(the one with training wheels that used to be his)
when he runs to get it before his little brother can,
riding it gleefully away from him.

Today, though, his brother wasn’t home;
so he pedaled slowly
around the driveway, pulled gently
at the duct-taped edge of the handle
as he rode.
I heard him talking softly to himself and
humming as he made lazy ovals
in the bright sunshine.

He kept going
until his sister called to him from the porch,
asked him what he was doing.

I heard the first words of the story
he began to make up,
then turned away so I wouldn’t
hear the end.

Spiderman Pajamas

Standing at their top
in the old house on the hill,
it seemed a long way down
the steepness of the dimly lit stairs.

From below in the kitchen,
you called my spiderman pajamas
superman.
I thought to correct you —

but even at nine,
I knew it didn’t matter.

Driving to work this morning,
it was even more remote
from the concerns of this day
or the decades in between.

Yet there we were,
among the forsythia
and apple blossoms
in the brightness of spring.

There’s a much more involved prose piece in here; but for Mother’s Day, this is the essence.

Spring Haiku #3

blossoms emerge —
incessant rains engulf
hopes of children

I sometimes feel as if a haiku isn’t enough of a post, as if eight words aren’t worthy of a week’s worth of creative work. And then there are blossoms; it is incredible how much of our own experience they bear on their tender petals and stems.

Almost Nine

Today is the final day he is almost nine.
As I worried he might,
he holds my hand less often.

The world pushes in on us;
the spaces in which we can hide —
just the two of us —
are more difficult to find,
simpler to disrupt.

Yet on this day,
his brother and sister
already gone from the table,
he pauses at my shoulder.

Even as I pull him onto my lap,
I expect him to continue on
to his book or simply something else;

but he sits
and softens.

Later, in the quiet of a too-late night
my wife whispers to me,

you should have seen his face.

Newest poem in the Years series.

I Walked in the Woods Today

I walked in the woods today
far under scattered clouds —
though it didn’t make me a boy again.

No dog by my side
circling ahead and back,
no sense of wonder at where I might emerge.

Patches of snow from an indecisive December
lay astride the path and filled in hollows.

Straining for the distant sound
of my mother’s voice
calling me in from play,
I heard only birds calling.

Nearly a month from moment to paper, when everything but renunciation seems a struggle.

She’s Rearranged Her Room

She’s rearranged her room
and proudly invites her father
to admire the work.

It makes up most of her world
on this summer afternoon —
careful placement of
well-worn friends,
books for reading
in the pillowed corner,
a place she has reserved for
hide-and-seek
just behind the bed.

If you lie right there
you can reach the fan, she tells him.

Turn it on, she says —
it smells just like the outside.

Her father looks out the window
as he turns the switch,
the ancient glass curving the view
across the lawn.

It really does, he replies,
tasting in that breath,
just for a moment at
the back of his throat,
the back of his memory,

his own childhood
rearranged room,
just-so and steady.

Five

The arc on the old swing is short
and the set rocks uneasily
from so many seasons
in the snow and rain.

He has known it
for all of his five years,

but now runs to it less often,
lingers not as long.

Just the other day
he asked me for a push,
one he doesn’t need anymore —
a big one, he said,
and laughed
as he rose and fell
straining back,
reaching upward.

The blue sky was clear
and closer than it used to be.

Completing the set with companion pieces Ten and Almost Eight.

Ten

Her ears glowed bright red
when she returned home,
newly pierced earrings
gracing either side of her
bright eyes and shy smile.

I wished that we had taken her picture
in the morning,
but we hadn’t planned
for this to be the day —
just gone ahead when she asked,
following through on a months’ old promise.

As I watched her through the kitchen window
my wife told me about how
brave she had been.
We reminisced about that cold winter
when we had walked her back and forth
between her bedroom and ours,
soothing her newborn tears.

She came inside to tell me
she had seen the first snow drops,
or at least their green shoots
peeking through the icy leftovers
of the latest storm.

That’s where I’m going to build my fairy house,
she told me.

She ducked back outside
and leaned against the post on the porch,
filling an old seashell with greenery,
her legs outstretched
in the pale sun and
whispering quietly to herself,
perhaps about the moment,
or maybe about
all of her ten years.

(A found companion piece to Almost Eight)

Coloring a Sunny Day

photo

Recently, our youngest son discovered a couple of large coloring books that had been tucked away on some basement shelves, unused since we got them years ago. He has sat with them several times for long stretches, simply coloring, tongue planted in his cheek just the way mine was as a boy when I was deep in concentration.

One afternoon this past weekend, he cleared some space at the kitchen table and asked me to sit with him while he colored. He chose a scene with a cowboy riding a horse, and worked carefully in crayon to make a sun in the corner of the page, complete with rays spreading out from a bright yellow center. I watched as he then colored a large swath of the sky, coloring blue right over the yellow sun. I wondered if he intended it that way, or if he was just caught up in the enjoyment of the blue. The answer came a moment later when I noticed him take a black crayon and make a scribble over and over the sun, and then slump back in his chair, dropping the crayon to the ground.

I thought this would fix it. It was supposed to be yellow, he said staring down at the sun, but I did the blue on it. I thought this would make it back to darker yellow, but it just ruined it.

He exhaled deeply and looked at me, then half-heartedly scraped with his thumbnail at the blue and black that covered his sun. The contentment that I had felt in sitting with him faded into sharing his deep disappointment.

What if we make it a cloud? I asked. It was the only thing I could think of.

Okay, he said.

I picked up the black crayon and traced an outline around the sun. There, now you color it in, and it will be a nice dark cloud.

He took the crayon from me and did just that. The black cloud looked a bit out of place in the otherwise bright blue sky, but he picked up a brown crayon and went back to coloring the cowboy riding his horse. I quietly exhaled in measured relief.

Until he started to cry.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

I was completely and utterly helpless. He had been enjoying our moment as much as I had; I was sure he had been enjoying the idea of his picture too, the image of it he held his mind. Now neither one was the way he wanted it to be, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Remembering his attempt to scrape away at the crayon, I thought of getting my wife’s sharp pair of sewing scissors to do the same, to reduce that paper to white, to give my son the fresh start he wanted.

Perhaps it was the scissors that gave me the idea of drawing a new sun on a separate piece of paper and pasting it on top of the mistake. I wasn’t sure he would like the idea, but he agreed and drew a new sun on a white piece of paper. He asked me to color in the blue so he wouldn’t go over the rays. I worked carefully and then had him finish before we glued it on. He was happy with it, and went back to the cowboy, the grass, and the fence.

Even though it turned out all right in the end, I can still hear him saying to me, through his sobs and tears, But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad. He had tried to set aside his disappointment – but he couldn’t. Instead, he surrendered to complete presence in the moment. No pretense, no holding back, no self-judgment. Isn’t that what we all long for?

Most touching as a father is that my son was willing to do this with me, and in this way expressed his complete love and trust. As an adult, experiencing and expressing anger, sadness, or disappointment in the presence of others is difficult for me. I have come to fear doing so.

Yet here was my five year old, showing me exactly how to do it right here, right now.

But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.

Coda: In the days since, I have thought a lot about having fixed the drawing. I know I won’t always be able to give him the sunny day he wants. And I shouldn’t. But this one? I had to.