[for the first post in this series of four, see May 8]
Years ago, before I’d reached my fortieth birthday, I remember talking to a friend who was looking pretty darn glum about his fiftieth. “Oh come on,” I said, “Just think of it as the half-way point.” I couldn’t understand why that didn’t cheer him up. Now my own fiftieth has got dust and flyspecks on the binding, and apparently I still haven’t memorized its aphorisms. If it’s impossible, as must seem obvious to any rational being, to put right all the mistakes I’ve made, why do I keep looking back? Why do all the possible futures unfolding out of my particular Heisenbergian uncertainty seem to have edges of creeping tarnish?
In this second section of my poem Leave and Come Home, I am struggling with uncertainty. Will our future relationship, mine and my son’s, be bright as the Firethroat or remain out of reach? I think of my own Dad, turning 85 this year. So much of our communication in my younger years was subterranean, never quite reaching the surface. How much angst did I cause him with my long hair and Grateful Dead? (Some other day I’ll share about how Linda helped us re-learn how to hug.) So much I didn’t know about my father, and so long before it occurred to me that I didn’t.
Several year’s ago Aunt Ellen (Dad’s sister) was going through boxes of papers from their parents’ home and discovered a letter Dad had written to his Mom from Boy Scout camp. He must have been thirteen. He had just passed the requirements to earn Birdwatching Merit Badge and was describing the birds he’d identified. Wait a minute! Big Momso is the bird watcher! You sneaky Dad, you, looking up into those branches all that time and never telling me what you were seeing. Well, I’m telling.
. . . . .
Leave and Come Home
Horseshoe Island, Newfound Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Last night a pair of Bald Eagles scrawled their wild script
along the silver lake. We lay on high rocks above the water, waited
for the final stars of our adventure to ignite.
Only Hermit Thrush spoke – silence
unaccustomed from our Scouts but habitual
for Josh and me.
This morning I leave him to goad
the younger ones to break our last camp –
when he leaves for college will he goad himself?
I follow the island trails, aim field glasses high
as if the warblers I’ve learned this trip might bestow
some special unction. When I pause they gather
in low branches and cock their heads, a query
I can’t answer. They leave me there.
Almost finished now, this last solitude, this last trail that has tried
to lead back to my son, close enough to hear
the tink of scrubbed pots; high in the spruce
another unnamed voice reedy and ascending
into emptiness. I search, it flees; I scan, it eludes until
on a gray limb in the gray-green canopy with a gray moth
in its needle beak it blazes: Firethroat. Blackburnian Warbler.
And if I rush to camp and pull Josh back in time
will we look up and share the prize
or stare into empty branches?
. . . . .
[Leave and Come Home won the 2009 Poet Laureate Award of the NC Poetry Society. In four sections, it covers fifty some years of being a son and father to a son. Each section covers a different geography, the sighting of a different warbler, and a new phase in our relationship as a family. I posted section 1 on 5/8; I will post section 3 on 5/22 and section 4 on 5/29.]