Showing posts with label childhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label childhood. Show all posts

25 April, 2014

Learning Along the Dirty, Sacred River: Educated vs. Learned; A New Poem

 Educated vs. Learned

I grew up believing that if I wasn't immediately good at something, then I should instead focus on those things I did excel at after one try. While this idea was not planted in me by any one person in particular, it was cemented into a false truth by pee wee football coaches who were either more interested in seeing their sons play or trying to compensate for their failure to coach in the NFL; it was fostered and encouraged by well meaning teachers whose impatience at my stubborn inability to grasp things like long division and the particulars of photosynthesis placed me firmly in the group of dim students who sat in the back and doodled rather than sat up front and knew every answer.* This idea was bullied into fact by other children who were more impressed with their own imaged prowess than with a quiet boy's curiosity about nearly everything.

Funny how curiosity was not (and generally still is not) one of those things people consider something worth being good at. I am very good at being curious and I have always been -- even when I was not good at articulating my curiosity. 

This idea of not doing what I wasn't naturally good at was also encouraged and developed by the list of things I was told, specifically, NOT to do. Adults like to say (and I have said it myself) that all children believe they are immortal. That sense of immortality was not something I experienced all that much because I was a sickly kid. I was in and out of the hospital several times before I turned five. Doctors took out my tonsils when I was four because they assumed that swollen tonsils were the reason I was having trouble breathing.  It took a while before my parents could find the right doctor to make the correct diagnosis. The smart, non-cutting doctor determined it was chronic asthma made worse by allergies. And I was allergic to almost everything. The doctors assured my parents that exposure to any level of dust, pollen, or mold might trigger an asthma attack that would kill me.**

This created a long list of things I could not do. If a neighbor three yards away was mowing their yard, I couldn't go outside to play. Sports were problematic, and even after I was cleared at the age of eight to join the world outside of school and church, I struggled. I couldn't tromp through the woods or explore the wide open fields near where I grew up -- both of which I did, often once I was old enough to be let out on my own without fear of the Carnahan's lawn mower.

One of the places I was never allowed to go was Grandpa's workshop. My brother and my (male) cousins were allowed. Most often I was left in the house, where I learned to play gin rummy with Grandma, and where I continued to develop my already over-active imagination.  Looking back, I wonder if my being barred from the workshop somehow limited my ability to talk to my mother's father. I remember him being a silent man; but he was not always silent. He would tickle me and sing silly songs to me when I was very young. He once gave a very nice pork pie hat -- grey brushed felt with a leather band -- that had been his, I think.***

I love the smell of wood and tobacco. Both of these smells represent things that were forbidden to me when I was young and it was believed that the dusty ol' world might kill me.

More than that, though, I love the thought that I am learning, again, how to work with wood.

One of the projects Amanda and I are working on this year are covers for the raised gardens. We have 4 raised Amish-made cedar garden beds. Last year, we tried to plant a garden that was trounced by flying squirrels, a squatter possum, bluejays, crows, and cardinals. The solution this year: simple wood frame and chicken wire covers. The scope of the project is not grand. I'm not going to try and jump from this project to building a house. But it's start.

Photo by A.Hay. The useful looking one is her Dad.
The hardest part is that while I can intuit a lot, and while I can figure out a lot how things work, and while I can research and learn about the things I can't figure out on my own is that somewhere, in back of my mind, I hear echoes of that thought -- generally in voice of Coach Thornberry, the king of jerk^ pee wee football coaches -- that if I can't do something, that I shouldn't do it at all.

But, in the parlance of our times: To hell with that bozo.










A New Poem


Winter makes me tire of myself.
Cold, dark February days instill in me
a desire to whittle away everything
that might signify I am alive.
Erase. Cut back. Wear a different hat.
Forgo certain enjoyable habits –
as I am and always have been
a creature of habit.

I was never so free
as when I lost my identification
to a pickpocket in a Minneapolis casino/
Bereft and released,
no longer obligated to my father’s name
I was only who others saw
or chose not to see.
There would have been no urgency at all
except that terrible itch in my foot and the anticipation
of touching your soft, warm skin
of looking into your bright eyes –
You, who know do not need to know my name
to know me
or to know my place in this world.

Now it is Spring
and the honeysuckle is blooming.
I find myself more inclined
to write myself back into lines
rather than obliterate all trace
and pray for the insight of others.
Your eyes, they shine on me
trace the lines that demarcate me,
the lines I have spent a cold season erasing.
Within the fresh lines,
your eyes fill me with ten thousand colors
of ten thousand forgotten nourishing suns
as the neighborhood roosters call out
demanding us all to rise.

*Sometimes I scribbled poems and silly stories. Sometimes I drew robots and then scribbled little poems and stories about them. Sometimes I daydreamed that I was a robot. Or that I was Superman. Or that I was a secret agent in enemy territory... that was a particularly favorite daydream during Ms. Melvin's 4th grade class when we studied multiplication tables.
** Not being able to breathe is an odd experience. I call it odd, rather than traumatic, because it happened often enough that it stopped being scary and became annoying. The only thing more annoying than not being able to breathe was everyone else's reactions to my not being able to breathe.
***I wasn't able to wear the hat very long. My head has always been unusually large.
^ Think of a wanna-be Mike Ditka. Same ego, same attitude, sans the coaching skill.

01 March, 2010

3 New Poems (3.1.10)

Excommunicado: (Christ! Not) Another Love Poem

It’s true – the world is
a mediocre place, and
you are too big-hearted
for it. Your eyes, so large
and blue and filled to the forehead
with expectations others
haven’t the will

to fulfill, look upon us all
scampering as we do
over this thin crust
of an old planet – whose driving force
is more akin to the creation
that falls from your finger tips
like a welcome rain

than the crumbling skyscrapers
and endless cracking interstates
our long forgotten antecedents
gambled their souls on (and lost).
You look upon us,
the devoured, the dead,
looking for another soul

not quite excommunicated
who would build something
so magnificent
that Art could not describe it,
that Heaven would burn envious of it.
Watching you struggle daily
makes me ache because

(excommunicated as I am)
I understand
there are so few options
for the one in one billion
born with a heart that beats
as large and as long and as loud
as yours.

Things that Remain (For Stella)

You are too old now
to believe the fairy tales
you heard as an infant
and the world
would not let you believe them
anyway, and your mother
would throw them out
with yesterday’s trash
like all childhood memories
are eventually ignored, discarded,
and forgotten. I am not,

I know, the conventional father,
the doting father who walks in the door
before supper and who
is there to explain
why your last name is different
from your mother’s
(or why it matters)
and why those odd emotional turns you have
are completely normal
and why
you should hold onto
the privacy of your thoughts
with all you have (because
that is all anybody will have.)

I don’t remember the age you were
when I realized you were a stranger;
it was a terrible and glorious day
because the little that’s in me
that passes for real fatherhood
mourned the loss;
but the rest of me was excited
at the new person
I desperately wanted to know.
The only problem then was
(as usual)
I didn’t know how to begin.

Maybe we’re all born strangers
and it’s only that passing physical connection
that deludes fathers into believing
we understand our children. Maybe that mixture
of love and happiness and sadness I felt
the first time I held you
should’ve been some indicator
of what was to come – but
I was too overcome
with that sensation
that there was now
in the world
another human being
who might grow
to see her greatness
in that flash of insight
most people mistake
for a day dream.

Shadow Puppets

What we see when we turn out the lights
are the shadows of our own souls
looking back at us, wanting to know
if we will ever catch up with them, or
if we have fallen behind for good. It happens
when we are children: we fall say our prayers
and fall asleep one night still full
of dreams and the energy that (reportedly)
created the universe and stars and suns and planets
and all the basic elements. We fall asleep and

we fall behind and the dreams suddenly change
and we are so busy chasing them
that we do not notice. As we age
the shadows linger, hoping (as all children do)
that we will return
that we will find ourselves
and reunite ourselves
with the selves we know is missing
but don’t have the sense
to go in searching for. Gradually,

our dreams
take different turns,
adult turns; the scientists say
our dreams manifest our fears
and allow us to play out scenarios
safely without rocking the boat
or pissing off the office manager
who will certainly report us
who will certainly call us
the dirtiest of names:
insubordinate, immature, unqualified, and
(gasp!) not company material.

If that happens, then
all we will have left are
empty midnight emissions
and creditors calling
who will call us names
and tell us we are unworthy
of the American Dream;
though they, too, have forgotten all the dreams
worth having and will not admit
the one they are selling
is one that never existed. Their shadows
haunt them too, but they’re too busy to notice

while you
are lying in bed the following morning
grasping at a memory,
the name of which
is on the tip of your tongue
and whose face
is encased in the dried tears
staining your dirty pillow.

11 February, 2010

[Playing Pretend]

My First Love was Erica Delaney. She was five years old. I was six. She lived with her parents on the newer side of town. Her father was the team leader of the power company that had built the dam and blocked off The West Fork. The hydroelectric plant saved the valley, according to the power company; the alternative was to build a nuclear power plant a little bit up river. But that presented other problems. What to do with the waste was one. The other was the blow to civic pride that Blighton would’ve gotten the power plant instead of New Leeds. Erica’s father was a popular man and a CPA. She didn’t understand any of these things anymore than I did; all she did was laugh and run around in circles the way small children used to.

I was older because I got sick and couldn’t start school in time. When all the other kids my age were learning to write large block letters and to count on their fingers, I was in and out of the hospital. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. When one specialist either announced his confusion or offered one more incorrect diagnosis, I was shuffled off to another specialist. I learned to read sitting in waiting room next to my mom, who would read aloud to me and teach me words at the same time. It was the same thing with every specialist, though. Each one of them would do the same tests: listen to my heart and lungs, take a blood sample, stick me with some needles, pinch and poke and prod, take my temperature. The allergists always stuck me with this needle that was actually a bunch of tiny needles bundled together. None of it did any good. One doctor thought there was some infection in my tonsils. Another thought it was my appendix. I’d been sick so long that I didn’t remember what it was like to not be sick; and even when I did go to school a year late, the only thing anybody came up with was chronic asthma and a ton of allergies – which meant pills, inhalers, and shots once a week.

And when I did go back to school, the slightest thing set off an attack. I couldn’t run too much at recess or hop around during classroom games. Any hint of excitement triggered an attack. Maybe that was when I learned to bury it all – because to show any excitement, happiness, or to get too rambunctious would lead to an attack that might kill me. All the kids knew about my asthma because the teacher had told them. But it was beyond any of them. I didn’t look sick. They just thought I was lazy, and their parents probably thought my parents were just babying me. When the kids made fun of me because I wasn’t allowed outside when the groundskeeper was mowing the grass, I learned to tune them out. Mostly While they were outside playing tag football or dodge ball, I sat inside, drew pictures, looked at books, and started making up my own games. Games I played in my mind. Playing Pretend. And in my mind, I was never sick and the other kids were all slower and weaker than me and none of them ever made fun of me.

Erica Delaney was not one of the kids who made fun of me. I think that was the reason I fell in love with her. She had long, curly blonde hair in which she wore brightly colored ribbons; the ribbons always matched her dress. Her eyes were a sparkling blue and she had this birdlike little laugh that I could pick out at a distance. Mrs. Chance, our teacher, liked her the best and always let her take the chalkboard erasers outside and clean them. She also let Erica pass out the cookies and juice during snack time, and whenever she asked a question, Erica Delaney’s hand was always the first hand in the air.

Sometimes, when I was actually allowed to go outside, Erica Delaney would smile and wave at me. And when I wasn’t allowed outside, she became part of the game I played in my mind. Sometimes I was a secret agent; that was when I first encountered the evil Dr. Tongo, enemy of all mankind, bent on either ruling or (if he couldn’t rule it) destroying the entire world. Inevitably, Dr. Tongo, in an attempt to keep me from stopping him, would kidnap my sweet Erica Delaney and hold her hostage. That meant I had to break into his super secret hideout, buried deep in the mountains in a place only I could find, to save her and upset his diabolical plans. The adventure was always full of peril, and while I was playing pretend I could be strong, emotional, and in control. I was trained in all the deadliest forms of fighting and I was an excellent athlete. And in the end, I would always rescue her and stop Dr. Tongo. And Erica would wrap her arms around my neck and hug me and kiss me the way women did in the movies and the television shows I watched. And her blue eyes always shone brightest for me.