Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

New England Mille Feuille

You are the oak tree that
incorporated the entirety
of a bicycle into your trunk,
an oddity of your growth

habits, to encompass the bike
left behind by a child who
no longer wanted it. Your
bark, spilling over the

rusted crossbar like a
primordial ooze,
viscous and precariously
supportive, until the

ultimate, Shel Silverstein
sacrifice left you an
obliging stump, revealing
the rings of your past:

widely spaced and pink
at the center, scarred by
draught, fire, trauma at
the radial lines, which you

carried with a steadfast
stoicism. You threw your
acorns to the forest floor,
rich In decomposing foliage.

There is no closure, only
nurture, taking what you have
learned to bear fruit, the caps of
which made shrill whistles

for children, reminding the world
of their undeveloped presence, shaded
by a collective canopy. No, you will never
be the Charter Oak, boastful, old,

rubbing knotted elbows with
King Charles, pompously
granting unprecedented autonomy
to the State of Connecticut.

Your wood will never comprise
the governor’s desk; but we will
look to you, noble savage, and
patiently await your counsel;

when your leaves are the size
of a mouses’s ear, we will plant corn,
we will feed even the ungrateful children,
we will nourish the world.

Towing Caution in the Wind

Brothers in the boat declared
you’ve gotta commit to the turn,
cut it, rip it open, ignore your
instincts. If you ever really

want to be any good, you
have to be scared and do it anyway.
Heed-able advice from two bags of
injuries, fools, who regardless

seemed pretty damned content
in this second-hand vessel.
I used dish soap to pull the
stiff binding around a lumpy

Achilles’ tendon, jumped in,
grabbed the rope, and heard:
no Sunday drags here. No
bullshit. Time’s a-wastin’.

So I succeeded,
and failed. Under the water,
everything was quieter, and
tinted green, the sound

of the motor oddly distant
and tinny, light rippling
and bending with the water
a bit of my blood. Baptized,

breaking the surface, a brother
yelled, you got it! I cried
Uncle, crawled into the boat
like an exhausted amphibious

victor. Did you feel it, baby?
No one gets to call me baby,
I said, and though damn straight
I felt it. A joyous ordeal.

Stop being such a girl, said a brother,
winked, threw a towel at me
that had warmed dry in the sun,
and cooed, OK, Honey?

The Canonization

Science found a way
to carve the essential
from the womb, an artificial
addition to our natural order

leaving behind a brilliant scar,
proud flesh.
Learned lessons and wisdom
is far sexier, I suppose;

An Arcadian Eden, earthly,
encircled in human arms, is
An ordered mess, an empathic axiom
that jumps on planes,

weeps, kisses wounds,
and answers, as best as one can.

As You Would Have Liked It

This gaudy salon offered a
poignant illustration of the
Pigeonhole Principle, where
a subset’s cardinality exploded:

those who loved you, or loved us
in your absence. It was an
occasion you would have loved,
your own fete, where every

wall of this fragile birdhouse
shattered, a Hilbert’s paradox
of our collective life: where those
that played on each stage

of Jacques’ poetical seven ages
gathered together, as only you
would have liked it. The only
gathering, solemn and transcendent

where uncomfortable compartments
dissolve. The curtain closes on
your strange and eventful history,
the last scene in which we

observe the main characters in
our own theaters, full of wise saws,
in a world too wide for smallness.
These are the keepers, who notice

that today it isn’t your regular grey
marry ‘em and bury ‘em suit that you wore,
laid out in celebration, but your dress blues
starched and as dignified as you, decorated

with a full bird on your lapel, that we found
in a box in your top dresser drawer.

The Network

As evasive as you were, I preferred
to listen to your economic interjections
rather than rhetorical, candy-tongued
politicians or priests droning on about

what they think they know, tossing out half-truths
into the blowing winds, feeding the fire.
Disconnected, relegated to our respective
tribes where we belong, we preach

to the choirs of discontent and comfort now. It’s
as if we’ve driven into a cell-free zone,
where preservationists question the
health of such things as free, open communication.

Words spin in my car, as I picture you in yours:
self-contained vessels where ideas
are stuck in the throat like the heavy yolk
of an infertile egg one can’t completely swallow.

Defiance

An audacious act it is, to fly,
dangling where we don’t belong
as Homo sapiens, we, destined
to ambulate, foot to earth, grounded;

and yet a set of brothers, Ohioans no less!
took the writings of a French ornithologist
a leap too far, loved Leonardo a touch too
deeply, allowing themselves to be seduced

by the somewhat erotic vocabulary
of flight physics. Presumably Orville
hatched at birth, imprinted on an eagle,
a hollow-boned soarer, as if it really

were possible to fly. It’s unnatural, Wilbur.
We don’t belong up here contemplating
the winds, decisions, turns, and shifts,
the entire course of our personal history,

plucking the petals of one daisy, singular in
the chain, that brought us happily to the gate.

If Not For You

The dashboard gasped 98 degrees
while Bob Dylan whined that he couldn’t
even find the floor without me, when
I kissed the bumper of a tall
stranger from West Orange, New Jersey
who looked nothing like the brooder from
Duluth, Minnestoa, but a grumpy
pavement dweller, whose eyebrows
separated when I chuckled a
cordial greeting, offered my insurance
card, made small talk about the poorly
designed parking lot at Kings market,
which somehow brought us, via the amount
of miles on my relatively new
car, to the Boulders Inn, still
operational in 1986,
where perhaps I prepared his smoked trout
mousse, a warmed beet salad for his wife,
enriching her blood to prepare for their
son, conceived that evening. A police
report ushered the end to our second
bump, closing another circle, when
I wished his family well, rolled down
the windows, silenced Bob while the two
distinctly arched eyebrows, framed in pavement,
directed me from the corner in
which I had found myself. It was then
that he thanked me for the warmed beet salad.

Ode to Sir Andrew Aguecheek

FOOL
Would you rather hear a love song or a song about the good life?

SIR TOBY BELCH
A love song, a love song.

SIR ANDREW
Ay, ay. I care not for good life.

Feeling sated by a shared meal and a rare
fellowship for a family far-flung with
grown-up lives hindering us, we fall back
into an unspoken line, re-creating

a long-lost dynamic in the name of
nostalgia, of yearning, behaving more
like school children than those burdened
with keeping the lights on, the beds made.

We share stories of the day, now with
the high-tech aide of pocket computers
we all have to chain us to our responsibilities,
Show-And-Tell with digital photography,

the short leash held in our trembling hands. My daughter
shares a video of a raccoon, given pieces of cotton candy
which disappear in a puddle where he washes
his full paws, waving his tiny human-like

digits through the artificially sweetened water,
gazing at the camera through a forlorn mask.
My youngest daughter – virginal – weeps at the cruelty.
Silence greets her, interrupted by laughter as the wise

amongst us recall the lost moments of our own
desires, love scorned, gripping onto beautiful
illusions, tantalizing images as ephemeral as
puffs of smoke, vapor trails, or digital messages.

A grievous moment, when one realizes they are
holding nothing, counterintuitively making the release
more vigorous, a lamenting handicraft echoing that of
Sir Andrew, our recognized Shakespearean fool:

the comic sadness of spun sugar, which dissolves
so quickly on the tongue, albeit adored once too,
as some ancient ancestor summons a brogue in my throat,
not my own, to sing with a sobering hilarity:
“A stick in me hand and a drop in me eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny Blue, we hardly knew ye…”

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation
forces an impressionist painting of a river
displayed in our dining room to
hang at a five-degree angle.

Passers-by adjust it, usually with a thumb
and forefinger at one of the lower corners
with delicacy, leaning back on their rear
leg, with a squint and a tilt of the neck

to ascertain the line of the adjacent
window. Alas, the truth of the matter
is the square of the distance of its center
is perfectly equal: it is the house itself,

more than two centuries old, that lists,
to the opposite degree of the art, a mimetic
representation of the river that rushes
by our Westerly windows. The structure

is subject to time and its universal effects
on its earthly subjects, shifting sills,
listing beams and turning arthritic joints,
all the while still housing us, embracing us

with silent stoicism, paternal wisdom
and immortal affection.

The Cliché

Careening down a hill, perched on
her scooter, her only braking method
being a tumbling leap into the grassy median,
my daughter learned how to coast

downhill, finding the brake that she
operated with her rear leg, best applied
while crouching in a ninja position,
her center of gravity low to the ground.

Still, we are here, crouched even
lower to the deck a week later,
her wound festering white and angry
under the all-important Band-Aid.

I rubbed coconut oil on the adhesive,
the memory of screaming fits on a hospital
bed still vivid, while she stared at
my shaking fingers, the image gnawing:

of her lying supine under a bright light,
my strong arms holding hers in surrender while
she hated me and cursed my betrayal,
swearing she’d never trust me again.

I liken the mother-child relationship
to an arranged marriage, a match
made by Natural Caste, for I know
you didn’t choose me, nor I you.

And yet somehow I fell in love with you
without even knowing you, the idea
of you endearing me, inextricably,
with every movement, every internal

biological sound that I couldn’t
decipher from my own. I wonder
if before you were conscious of what
lay beyond that path, you loved me too.

“Rip it off,” you said, in steadfast gaze
knowing full well that somehow I’d
hurt you again, and you me, all the while sharing
the only perdurable love we’d ever know.

With one swift pull, two matching grimaces,
I yanked Rumi’s plaster and let the wound
open to the air, to heal, to scar,
to usher in the light our clouded eyes crave.