It occurred to me recently that I walked more than a thousand miles in the immediate neighborhood during the past year, and several hundred more on state park trails — in terms of sheer distance, roughly halfway across the continent. This is hardly a profound realization. But though it was made in small increments, the journey itself was far from mundane. And a journey it remains. Another year and I could be in New Jersey, and surprise my cousin if he is at home.
My Father Walking, and Twenty-Four Other Things
From clutching a pencil in grade school and beyond, I developed a callous on the middle finger of my right hand. It’s still there, to the left and just below the nail, despite the fact that I’ve been typing almost exclusively for years.
When I was small, my father found a clump of white asparagus growing in the vineyard. He dug it out and planted it by our house well. It fed us faithfully each spring.
I remember my father
walking on the hard dirt avenue
at the end of the vineyard
rows behind our
the cuffs turned up
on his jeans, the dust and sticks
and weeds, his impatient
stride, having to run
to stay beside
that hot July when I was four
and he was thirty-seven,
but I don’t recall our destination,
or what he did when we
arrived, what I said,
or his reply.
Once, on a hot summer evening, I aimed a BB gun at our old wooden basketball goal and fired. The shot bounced back and hit me in the forehead. I fished it out of the dust and put it in my pocket. I don’t remember what I did after that.
When I was about ten, I took nine snails from the irrigation ditch that ran alongside the east end of our farm and put them in the aquarium on top of my chest of drawers. A few weeks later, the aquarium was teeming with snails.
My first car was a bicycle. My first bicycle was a scooter. My first scooter was a tricycle. My first bus ride was in a dusty red wagon.
One night, my mother’s Aunt Mildred took out her teeth and showed them to me.
In the kitchen during a family get-together, with my mother looking on, I ate a piece of uncooked marinated lamb intended for shish kebab. It tasted good and I didn’t feel ill at all, but I never did it again.
We grew all of our tomatoes back then, and bought all of our onions and parsley.
Same as now, there were stars in those days that had no need of names.
If I were a lizard on a woodpile, I would still be able to write, but I would do it differently.
If I were a pumpkin on a vine, I would want to face east so I could watch the sun rise.
If I were a faithful old hound, my name would be Bill.
Late one night, driving home with some friends from the mountains, I pulled off the road, stopped the car, and told everyone to get out and look at the stars. They did, in amazed silence. I wonder if they remember that now.
I still feel thrilled when I find a marble.
Back in his heyday, Willie Mays lived near my cousin’s house in San Francisco. We rang his doorbell. No one answered.
My father used to chase them when he was a kid, but I myself have never seen a roadrunner.
The first thing I smoked was a nickel cigar.
To this day, I feel funny referring to myself as a man. A man was always someone older, someone responsible. My father and grandfather were men. I am still a boy.
I cannot blow my nose using my right hand. It has to be the left.
I always tie my left shoe first.
I kick with my left foot.
The first poem I remember reading is “O Captain! My Captain!”
When I first started piano lessons, I used to sing with every note. The teacher told my mother I had perfect pitch.
There are some things that I will never write about. That, too, is how you will know me.
The poem, “My Father Walking,” is from Songs and Letters, April 3, 2007. The “Twenty-Four Other Things” were written and first published in their present form July 1, 2010, in Recently Banned Literature. The offering also appeared February 11, 2011, with a brief introduction and drawing, in Creative Thresholds, where it was one of the Editors’ picks in Discover.
[ 613 ]