How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wing . . . The Gospel of St. Luke
Bogue Banks. Thirty-four miles long from Fort Macon in the west to the old ferry station at the eastern end, and in most places so narrow you can see both the sound and the ocean from your deck. And you’re never very many feet from tarmac.
But there is at least one spot on the Banks where you can’t hear the SUV’s grinding along Rte. 58. Where the live oaks and loblollies are so thick with greenbrier you wouldn’t even think of taking a shortcut. Where egrets roost in the trees, osprey snag mullet from the inlet, and if you’re real still you can hear the tick and crinkle of a million fiddler crabs tapping their tiny claws to attract a million little females.
The Teddy Roosevelt Natural Area is site of one of North Carolina’s four aquaria, but the real attraction for me and mom are the trails that wind away from the visitors center back into the pine knolls. Away from sun worship to slow black water and tidal ponds. And while I’m slapping mosquitoes, Mom is seeing the merest flash of color from a high branch and exclaiming, ” A Redstart!”
In the steam of the maritime forest and the glare of the strand, parent birds struggle to protect their young from heat. In this third section of Leave and Come Home, I wonder if I have protected my son adequately from his struggles or too much. Does a parent ever finish with worrying whether their child will make it? Will I ever finish questioning whether I’ve been adequate to the task?
. . . . .
Leave and Come Home
Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area, Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina
It’s been a long time since anything
surprised me. By their mere voices I name each bird
that speaks from the rippled heat of jack pine
and yaupon, but I couldn’t tell you a single word
my son would wish to say. No, that’s wrong. The problem is
I don’t speak a single word I wish
he’d hear. Here the birds cover their eggs
not to keep them warm but cool. They hatch
altricial, blind, but in two weeks they fledge
and fly. All as it should be. I feel I have to lay my arm
on Josh’s shoulder not to push him forward
but to hold him up.
This trail crosses black water and climbs a sand knoll
knee deep in mosquitos; I smack
and squirm, but Mom always looks up. She points
to sunlight coalesced into the shape
of Warbler, Prothonotary, perched at his cleric’s chamber
of commandeered woodpecker hole.
And in your ecclesiastical garments can you accept
confession, the hardest one a father
could admit? That from reticence, confusion,
or hopes never uncovered like a wing not lifted
from the nestling’s eyes, I haven’t held him up
but held him back.
[Leave and Come Home won the 2009 Poet Laureate Award of the NC Poetry Society. In four sections, it reflects some fifty 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, section 2 on 5/15, and I will post section 4 on 5/29.]