a few stragglers remain.
a few stragglers remain.
I’m finally looking into the cardboard box
I brought home from my mother’s house late last month;
The clementines she had insisted I take
and perched on top have long since been eaten;
it’s been otherwise untouched
sitting in the corner of the yellow room.
Two pairs of my infant pajamas–
The yellow, corduroy pair with the embroidered lion,
the faded white and green night dress.
She had remarked on the drawstring she had sewn into the bottom–
how it was still there–
the fold-over sleeves to keep me from scratching myself
as I slept in my crib.
My white shoes, too, laces gone,
but still with their impossibly stiff bottom;
my grandmother’s blue-and-white Canton ware,
wrapped in the 1975 Daily News of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Just before I left,
we had sat on the basement couch flipping through
faded Kodak prints, square with rounded corners,
taken before we moved into the house on the hill.
We paused at one where I wore that night dress,
my sister and I standing
in the deep darkness of an evening east window.
There were others, too, from that forty-years-ago,
and she told me again about each one.
We had such fun, she said,
It’s supposed to be raining this morning,
but I awake without the sound
of small drops trickling from maple leaves or
spattering the old tin roof
outside our bedroom window –
either would have muffled the clinking of
spoons against the edges of
glass cereal bowls that
filters up from downstairs.
Yet well past the hour when
I often find myself alone,
you are still beside me,
I watch your breasts rise and fall
under the softness of your light blue camisole,
its narrow strap rising over your left shoulder
into a blur of light from the south window.
Your birthday is two days from now –
early forty-something this summer –
I should get up and settle the children’s argument,
plan for a gift.
he won’t bring home another packet of sight words,
tape them to the wall
over his largely-unmade bed,
lie in the darkness,
read them by flashlight.
is gone —
and I want it back.
Buddhism might one day free me from suffering, but not from being human. If anything, I feel my joy, my sadness, anguish, loneliness and contentment more acutely. Buddhism promises the possibility of welcoming each one. It has taught me, even, to welcome my attachments, to not run away from even my clinging.
My relief from suffering, when it arises, comes not from stoicism. Instead, it arrives when I allow the joy and dukkha that are the essence of fatherhood to be together. It comes when I turn and face them both and say, Yes, all of this. This is now. This is fatherhood. The wanting and the letting go. This is love. This is it. All of this. This is it.
Three poems —
one about the love
in a small bag of pistachios —
and two works of prose
sit unwritten in my notebook;
the spaces aren’t big enough.
as the sun rises,
I call my daughter
out to the front steps
where we sit and talk about
yesterday’s and the morning’s
and what they may tell us
about the weather to come.
She watches her own breath
in the cool morning air,
describes the difference between
cirrus and altocumulus,
and asks me my favorite.
I was never more proud of my son than I was that day, just a few weeks ago. Thank goodness that has worn away, so I can keep loving him for who he is.
My wife and I have been working on a landscaping project at the house, converting a thousand-square foot area from grass to perennials and herbs. Grass never grew well in this south-facing area, and I am excited about having even more fresh flowers to cut in future years. As a part of the project, I decided to replace a section of fence with a dry stone wall and to install a border of paving stones between the driveway and this new garden.
A couple of weeks back, the day’s work involved digging a trench for the pavers, sixty feet long and about a foot wide. Being next to an old asphalt driveway laid on top of New England clay soil, there wasn’t much easy digging. As I went, I worked to save the small rocks that came out of the ground, since they would make good fill around the base of the stone wall. This meant sifting out the dirt and sorting the stones into different piles. One foot at a time, on a very warm August Saturday.
My son shuffled towards me relatively early in the day. Can I help, Dad?
I thought for a second about what he might be able to do. My initial reaction was that he wouldn’t be able to help. The pick axe is too heavy for him, I thought. The weight of stones themselves, while small, would add up quickly, and they needed to be piled a good fifty feet from where I was working. The wheelbarrow is too big for him to manage.
Sure, I said, still thinking. Go get a bucket, one of the big ones. And put some good shoes on.
our children surrounding you
as closely as the faded sheets,
you were not mine alone
to touch —
the years intervening
since that day
when the air was thicker, closer,
and I climbed down the rocks
near your parents’ house
to swim through the fog in the ocean,
a ritual cleansing of my own choosing.
Each breath of that morning
had been simple,
even anticipation ceasing —
to its own inability
to describe any truth
but an assurance of
holding us both
in unborn arms,
and summer rainstorms.