A sharp October noon recess (first grade).
Six then, he sits where yesterday he played—
A focused scholar at the sidewalk curb,
All quiet noun, his classmates total verb.
The bright young nun who sees the state he’s in
Tells him the map he cons is Michigan—
That here is where he lives, this paper glove
Spread out before him. Though he is in love
With her, he sees that it’s more like a mitten
Where the leafy little towns are written
Down in palm and thumb (say, Battle Creek).
He looks down at his hand. What can he seek
To understand before he hears the bell?
That highways are like life-lines? Only time will tell.
Pointer in hand, the map ring on her finger,
Sister brings down South America,
Lowering its window shade of blue
And ochre, countries outlined all in teal,
Their capitals pricked out as asterisks.
Geography: she lets the long word linger
Like a lesson. Called on, Erika
And Josh are both found wanting.
Then it’s you.
Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru. You reel
Off everything you know that’s there. Tsk-tsks
From Brigida; rank showing-off won’t do.
Wanting your knowledge banked with modesty,
Failing to see that maps have cast a spell
Of love from which you cannot be set free,
She is a nun who fights a miracle—
A wary teacher who cannot foretell
That day when you will picture tinctured lands
For happiness, when no one understands,
And Sucre is as sweet as any sound,
And you will know just where La Paz is found.
Complacent hope; self-centered ease: forgive,
Lord God; that wasn’t how I meant to live,
Exactly. So, commanding what redress
You please, please entertain my rueful yes.
I yield it up for having failed to lose
An arm, a leg, my eyes, my hands (You choose)
In war or as a DP, like so many
Others. Other body-insults? There weren’t any
(Unless you count one broken wrist, which doesn’t,
Even now, seem much. Not that it wasn’t
Painful, yes, but . . . .) Failing You, I lost
But little, and at very little cost.
No cyclone, mudslide, fire, flood, or slaughter
Immiserated me. I bore no daughter,
Son; wed one plain wife (look down on me
For our no-fault divorce). And since You see
All weaknesses—each sin that we commit—
I know You know by now the worst of it
Was pretty venial. Let us have Your pardon,
Father Almighty, lest Your heart should harden
At such a bio lived with scant regret.
Of course, there may come tests and trials yet.
So much time may remain for me to pay.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lonely are the brave? Yes, but they can
Annoy as well, obnoxious as can be.
Consider for a moment how the hill
I walk down, coming home each night from work,
May hide a lurking ambush. Though I scan
Insidious driveways more than carefully,
A runty Pekingese springs forth at will
(It finds a way) with such a high, shrill bark,
It’s torture. As to whether male or bitch,
Its “lion-dog” coat means I can’t tell which—
Only that every yelp precedes a nip
At my ankles. It’s a midget pest,
With such a pain-in-the-ass, high-pitched yip;
With such a vigilant and valiant zest.
But then, consider, too, how I must seem
To him (?), who, fired with a berserker’s courage,
No doubt decides that I’m some towering scourge—
A Talus stoked with Harryhausen steam;
A threat that drives him to this crazed attack,
Which is, of course, his family’s best defense
(A family I mean no harm at all).
I cringe to think if he ran in a pack
Of plucky Pekes. They all would have me hence.
But though these forays have begun to pall
In their attractiveness, to say the least,
He still remains a fearless little beast,
Intent on saving those that he must save—
A lonely warder taking on the task
Sometimes assigned to the obstreperous.
I’ve grown to hate his ugly, scrunched-up puss,
But as to guts? Well, what more could one ask?