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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Off the hot street and down

the narrow stairwell,

I entered the smell of books—

a musty scent of paper and ink.

How I loved entering the stacks,

shelves taller than I was.

Loved running my hands

along hardcover spines

wondering at the worlds inside.

I was allowed twelve thin books,

that meant twelve chances

to travel to realms where monkeys

stole hats and the Whangdoodle snoozed.

Twelve chapters in which I

was no longer an awkward girl

but a baker in an old village

or a mouse in an attic befriending a girl

who was something like me,

or at least like the girl I wished I could be,

a girl who was brave, a girl

who couldn’t help but stumble

every single time

into happily ever after.

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Like Monopoly. Because you always ended up landing on Boardwalk

where the red hotel meant you owed two thousand dollars

and all you had were mortgaged railroads. Or like checkers,

because really, what was fun about moving small plastic disks

diagonally and hearing the other kid say, “King me.” And soccer?

Only because your mother made you because she wanted

to be coach. You did want to play school, but no one else did,

so you were the principal, the teacher, the student,

giving yourself homework, grading it yourself. Writing in red

in your best cursive at the top of the page, “See me.”

You didn’t want to play basketball, because no one else

ever chose you for their team. Even though you were tall.

And you were chosen last for volleyball, too. And t-ball.

And Red Rover. And dodge ball. Is it any wonder your favorite

way to play was to visit the junkyard and find treasure?

Or to walk along the lake to look for flowers and worms?

Is it any wonder you learned to love playing alone

in quiet rooms with an empty page and a pen?

There was no way then you could have known

that it would save you—no, you just thought

you were playing the only way you knew how,

walking through the only doors

you knew how to open yourself.

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That was the summer

they drove the Ferris wheel into town,

erecting it in the park—

and James Taylor and Carly Simon

sang to each other over the radio

and people paid money

to throw ping pong balls into small jars

for the chance to win a goldfish;

to throw darts at balloons

for a giant teddy bear.

The park smelled of beer and grilled corn

and from the top of the ride,

I could almost see the whole town—

down to the five and dime and up to the cemetery.

Those were the days before I knew words

such as mercy or duplicity or forgiveness.

The cotton candy melted on my tongue in sharp crystals.

The Ferris wheel was gone the next day,

my pocket full of tickets I couldn’t spend.

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My brother thrilled to pummel and punch

that red-nosed clown again and again—

an inflatable plastic sack with a round weighted base—

 

and always the clown returned to standing.

Forty years later, I still don’t want to punch anything,

wish, instead, I could be more like that red and blue Bozo,

 

could roll and twist and spin each time

life knocks me over, and though I wobble,

though I bob, I would defy the laws of physics

 

return to standing, yes I would,

and find a way to smile.

 

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The day is quiet and

the light is strong and I sit alone

in the V of the weeping willow

 

in a place where the sun can’t reach me

and no one can see me.

I pull off the bark in thick rough slabs,

 

and the day is drowsy and the light

is long and the bark feels rough

in my four-year-old hands,

 

but I flip it and find it is smooth

underneath where it touches the tree.

Yes, the bark is smooth, like my dress,

 

like me, and I move my fingers across

the soft side, surprised by the secret writings there—

meandering marks that slither and wriggle

 

in cursive spells, some language only

the tree can tell, that only I can read.

And the day is page and the light

 

is song and I am not at all alone,

perhaps there is writing inside me, too,

the bark thrilling in my hands.

 

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How Long Has It Been?

 

 

 

They sit on the shelf now, mostly,

or have moved into boxes of memory,

those soft cloth dolls we once cradled

and cuddled and dragged from bed

to the yard to the car to the store.

They went everywhere with us,

their small yarn eyes always open,

never narrowing in disapproval,

never turning to shine on someone else.

Their plump cheeks eternally blushing,

their smile never uncurling

into disinterest, never snarling

into disdain. We could tell them

everything—about the girl

down the street who jeered

that our plaid pants were too short,

who sneered at the way we ran.

 

We could tell them about

the blue monster who lived in the closet,

and how he sometimes slipped out

to crawl beneath our bed.

And they listened. And smiled.

And let us hold them and suck

on their hands—or their hats—if that’s

what made the night feel safe.

They never whispered mean

words about us to their friends

while we were off at school.

Sometimes, it’s true, they would

disappear. That’s what all

beloved things do. And then,

days later perhaps, they’d be found

under a pillow on the couch or out

beneath the willow tree sitting

in the dirt beside the shovel and pail.

 

Now, it is we who have disappeared

into the world of harder things—

keys and doors and ceilings,

and women with words

like sticks and men with eyes

that seldom meet our eyes.

We are too old for dolls.

Still, there is in us, perhaps,

the faded longing to hold something

soft, something so familiar,

something so well loved,

so absent of cruelty

it makes us feel capable

of loving utterly, unguardedly again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Long before we could see

the smokestacks rising above

the rooftops of Madison,

my brother and I would shout

from the backseat,

“I see Oscar Mayer!”

 

Though we had never been in,

it was the building where

our grandfather worked

and its gray flues meant

we were close to Papa’s home.

I remember wanting it

bad enough to create

the vision in the distance.

“I see Oscar Mayer,”

I’d say, and my brother

would say he saw it, too,

and my mother or father would

explain it was still an hour away.

 

Five minutes later,

my brother would insist

he could see it for sure,

and then I’d see it again,

and an hour would pass this way

until finally the dark smoke

rose on the horizon

and we’d shout in unison,

“I see Oscar Mayer!”

 

It still happens sometimes,

I want to arrive somewhere

so badly I can see it

though it isn’t there,

or more likely I have no idea

how the destination will appear and so

I declare myself far away,

though I don’t really know.

 

Decades ago the Madison

plant was closed,

though my brother still writes

sometimes to tell me he can see it.

It was easier then—

we knew exactly

what we were looking for,

knew it so well that

I almost think

I can see it from here.

 

 

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For most life on the planet, being hidden is the default condition.
—Michael Dickinson, biologist

The little girl is not like the hermit crab,
though both live by hiding, finding small
spaces where they can retreat and occasionally
poke out a well-armored claw for transit
or feeding. It’s natural to all living things,
this impulse to survive through concealment,
only this girl, who has tucked herself under the bed,
her soft body curled into itself,
this girl, though she pinches
at anything that draws close,
she desperately, urgently
wants to be found.

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When I Was Five

Whitish and filmy, their eyes clouded over,
the dead bluegills and croppies would float
to the top of the lake and catch in the seaweed.
I’d splash with my hands at the water’s surface
and make waves to push their rotting bodies
toward the neighbor’s pier.
And then my brother and I would play.
Death, then, was just something to push away,
certainly nothing that had anything to do with us.

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I Felt So Safe There

Beneath the stairs in the unfinished room
was a space just large enough
for a girl age six to crawl inside and hide.
I’d tack up a thin pink blanket to dampen any light
and crouch in the dim with my dolls, my pillow.
There was a hole in the concrete block
that I scraped and smoothed, with what?
I can’t recall. The hole was small, but it was sufficient
for holding my finest treasures: a round blue bead,
an arrowhead, a wedge of weeping willow bark
that worms had carved with squiggle marks.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have also
tucked in there a tiny scrap of paper with your name on it.

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