Going to Grandma’s
When we were young my mother would pack our old ’52 Plymouth in the chill of morning for our journey from Ithaca to East Berkshire, Vermont, to see Grandma. The trip was always a long, full day of driving with wonderful sights yet much squirmy energy to contain. Year after year we made this trip so that images along the way became indelibly etched in my memory.
out to pasture
a Ford Fairlane
with it’s hood up
The road rising and falling, stretching straight at times, and always moving ahead built up a whole set of anticipations and images to look for. I would keenly watch for picture perfect farms, cows in their pastures, majestic willows following a stream, dream houses with lovely porches, horizons near and far, bridges big and small. Roadkills, particularly skunks, as well as railroad crossings with their twin bumps, would always heighten the passage. It was fascinating to glimpse abandoned houses, burned down barns, junkyards, factories, cemeteries, billboards, freight cars next to warehouses and to pass through little towns with their five and dime hearts gave me plenty to fuel my childhood imagination. The road, even in stretches of emptiness, would captivate my curiosity and pique my early sense of space all flowing together.
freight train going our way…
silently saying the names
on the box car walls
Despite the external flowing landscape the most passionate activity on these trips was the inevitable teasing and squabbles that broke out between my sister, Heidi and me. Since she was two years younger it was hard to reconcile her being both bigger and stronger! The back seat was a universe unto us, and the typical trip would at some point develop the drawing of a battle line. Although the line was imaginary, it was nonetheless important in formalizing our taunts and tussels. It created a boundary of tension and a chance to tempt fate. We were a brother and sister occupying a small space and had over 325 miles to engage in combat.
the little hairs
on my sisters arms;
how similar to mine
The verbal bickering usually escalated to fake nonchalant hand placements over the line, reprisals, poundings on shoulders and arms, glares of defiance, allegations of blame, sneers, and appeals to the front seat for justice. Violations of decency required a referee. After a few shrill exchanges, a few appeals, the car would stop. Our mother, no longer able to tolerate us would pull over and order me to get out and run… yes, run, and run along the side of the road far enough to be tired enough hopefully to get back in the car tired out and able to sit peacefully still and quiet for awhile.
our new used car
several old cigarette butts
in the ash tray
One of these times on a stretch of road in a remote area as I ran along I noticed the Plymouth getting smaller and smaller until I got completely out of sight. The forest on either side of the road invited glances and the powerful thought that I could just veer off and disappear in those deep woods forever. Wouldn’t she be sorry, I smugly imagined, but just enough of that early childhood self-survival instinct vetoed the getting- lost -in-the-woods detour! I kept running as fast as I could, fully aware of a certain triumph that could be obtained by the sheer distance ahead I could go.
in the roadside gravel;
The road began to curve and I realized that I was way out of sight and well beyond the distance that my mother usually let me get.. What a feeling: to be a kid, alone, running in a strange unexpected place; lungs, heart, arms and legs all churning and pulling onwards, ahead with some mysterious charm to the moment. Suddenly a pick-up truck came up from behind and pulled along side of me. A man at the wheel leaned over and yelled out the window: “Kid, do you want a lift?” I hesitated, amazed, tempted, but then said, “No, I guess not, I’ll be getting a ride with someone soon.” I said this half looking back and half wishing I could see the Plymouth, but it was not in sight. A slight shiver passed through me. I could have gotten in that truck, I could have run away with help. That would have been a pivotal moment heading me into a completely different life.
a long way
from home my pillow
in the car
As it was the Plymouth soon did reappear and leap frogged ahead of me. I ran some more, now really tired and ready to get in. I was breathing heavily and without any words didn’t even give my sister a look. For quite some time I sat peacefully and quietly, looking out the window, full of private thoughts and considerations of my young little life. The run had done just what my mother had wanted. I was able to sit awhile very nicely. It would take dozens of years for me to realize that it is moments like these that help keep a family together, What I felt that day, long ago, was in a brilliant little bundle of moments what being young is all about.
the passing tractor trailer
buffets our car
In the Woods
In 1962 when I was eleven I fancied myself to be a Last of the Mohican, Huckleberry Finn, outback wilderness child, and had chosen the name “Wonapsa” to inspire and fulfill the fantasies I played out in the woods and gorges behind our house. The woods contained the world I loved, both real and imaginary. I would spy on rabbits, chipmunks, and woodpeckers. Sometimes I would sit as still as I could to see what being a ghost was all about. I laid on the ground, smelling the dirt and embracing a patch of earth just my size. I would climb trees listening to the wind sigh in the boughs and learn the creak that comes from deep in trees. The woods were filled with secrets I wanted to know.
sun after rain-
the garter snake fresh
from its skin
In the spring it was momentous to find mayapples and hepaticas and know new life arises from the litter and wreckage of winters’ leaving. One day while scampering up and down steep slopes in random search for tiny skulls, feathers, fossils or a special perch to sit awhile, I peeked over a ridge top to see a man and a woman lying out on a ledge a way below me. What they were doing I had roughly heard about but never seen. The trees between me and them were few but a bit of guilt kept me from a steady stare. I became aware of the unlikliness of what I was witnessing and felt an exhileration of discovery. To see their flesh while they kept some clothes on filled me with curiosity. I do not remember a distinct conclusion, my memory choosing to focus on the unison of their movements.
That night my heart and mind recreated it all over and over. What images I had seen. How purely animal and natural they were. How unexpected and free a view I had.
Years go by and that ledge is still there. My walks in the woods these days sometimes pass that place. I always look a little and remember. I’ve never seen anyone else there.
a clump of wild onion
scents the air
( published in Wedge of Light, 1999, Press Here, Foster City, California)
The iffy weather holds and the whole ceremony occurs magnificently without rain. Extended families in their finest. Toddlers swagger about the edge of the overflow seating. The speeches are both grand and generic, and appropriately inventory many inspired concepts to send this group into the next life. Balloons are released, cameras are reloaded, video runs, and cheers of jubilation arise here and there from the mass as subsets of the group are specified. Just as the processional marched in it is not long before everyone slowly files out. Six thousand students, thirty thousand relatives, friends, ushers, speakers, dignitaries, professors, staff, emergency personnel, and myself caught up in this sea of spectacle. I work near here and pass this site nearly every day. This is the one hundred twenty-eighth graduation to be held at this place.
in the rain
outside the empty stadium
It begins at the beginning; baby things, a cradle, diapers, wipes, sleepers, onesies, rattles, cuddly bears and before you know it there is a high chair, crayons, markers, glitter, legos, duplos, playmobile, comics, books, socks, mittens, hats and how quickly things are outgrown.
When you don’t pay enough attention to young ones things happen to insure you do pay enough attention. Days become a mess here, a spill there and soon it becomes a plunder all around until finally after countless episodes of distress , a whole day of monitoring, pick-up and attention is done. Readiness for the next day cavalcade must be made. Zombie-like puzzling over how draining and challenging parenthood is, I remark to my wife how exhausting it is to be at home with the children. She says the secret is to keep things moving and to get out of the house.
she tells me she never loses
In the Middle
You can sit on a lawn or in a field, or forest or by a stream; almost anyplace and just sit there sensing whatever. The longer you sit the better for settling out the business of the mind and becoming open to the myriad senses of sound, sight, smell and the way all manner of life is right there to discover…
page by page
she knows on each one
where Waldo is
When our 5 and 1/2 year old son, Casey, began a campaign for new sneakers it awakened in me the memories of my own childhood love affair with the nearly annual new pair. For a child there is an extr-sensory exhileration that comes from having one’s feet laced into a springy new pair of sneakers.
Casey had been pleading for weeks for a new pair of Nikes. At first I was mildly disturbed that he was brand and style conscious at only 5. After all, my childhood sneakers had been plain canvas skippy’s bought at Five-and-Dime stores, and had been absolutely captivating to me. Furthermore, as an adult I’ve never warmed up to the large, clumpy, light-up-glaring barges that so many kids adore today. Oh well, my doubts were soon replaced by vicarious enjoyment of his pleasure with his new Nikes. He had me hold them, inspect their tread and note every feature of their design.
Watching Casey run, jump, skip and thoroughly exalt about in his new sneakers made it perfectly clear he was proud, enthused and inspired by the collaboration of his dream come true in the form of two pieces of rubber life attached to his feet. I was instructed to look closely at the first grass stains and the first mud in the tread. In general much focus that first day was placed firmly on his embellished feet! I knew they would get old like many prized toys past their peak of charm, yet I’ll never forget that night when still brand new these sneakers were the magic of a young heart and mind.
five year old snuggles
his new sneakers
Our son has named him Fruittree although Luna was the name we gave him when we brought him home from the SPCA. Fruittree quickly established himself as a destructive presence, clawing furniture, shredding curtains, getting up on our mantle, different dressers and knocking off breakable things. He demands attention with an effective caterwaul that he keeps up until he gets his way, which is usually to get out or be let back in. Besides the caterwaul when he wants”in” he resorts to leaping up onto window or door screens and hanging on issueing loud meows until he is let in. All the screens are in poor shape as a result of his heftiness. Fruittree sheds his white fur ferociously everywhere. He’s been known to grab bites out of food on the table if not watched closely and he views our garden as his personal over-sized kitty litter. Our fish aquarium he treats as his ready made fish soup for lapping at any time of day.
beneath the feeder
our deaf cat
In my ten years of married life the lack of time to be totally alone has been a chronic issue of discontent in me. When my wife and children boarded the Lake Shore Limited in Syracuse heading out to California for a month visit with the kids grandparents I felt genuine anxiety. It was to be my second significant time alone in ten years.
My first day on my own I became aware of unrealistic expectations I had placed on this time. I had envisioned this being alone for so long as a fantasy that the reality was bound to suffer some in comparison. Always my fantasy was that when alone I could and would write more and better poems, I’d read abundantly, attend movies, plays, go out to hear music, get together with friends and generally feel happier, free, relaxed, inspired, productive, decisive and more like my old self; eclectic and bohemian. I always imagined confidently that once alone I’d be able to accomplish all the myriad things I fail to accomplish when surrounded by the needs and demands of family life.
that big white cloud
out the window