The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.3 (Summer 2011)
Now He Drives Himself
This boy! He needs so much!
Neighborhoods used to have other boys
To keep a seven-year-old happy.
Now professionals are marrying later,
Fertility rates are down, pre-schooling
Poses an eight-hour day (once karate
And soccer are tallied)—and, entre nous,
The execrable Play Station holds boys thrall indoors,
Like a Siren—like Pinocchio’s Land of Play
That turns unlettered boys to asses.
So I’m stuck with dusting off my childhood.
My legs sign “U” on bedroom carpet, lose their shoes.
“This is how we populate Cretaceous forests—
See?—with herds of herbivores and T-Rex ambushes.
Put the pterodactyl on the bookcase’s top shelf…
Or as high as you can reach. And your bears,
Tomorrow we’ll gird them in gladiator gear.
We can make cuirasses from cardboard, helmets
From Dixie cups and Styrofoam bowls.
(What’s a cuirass? Ah… get the dictionary.)”
I could be doing a lot of things just now,
But let’s not worry about my holding a job, or
Hitting bed before midnight. Let’s just be sure
He doesn’t have to figure out playing by himself.
God, will this not end? Will he never stop needing
My valuable time to build freight trains out of chairs?
Very well. Today, and then no more.
I forget exactly what day that was; but since then—
Though glad to have one hour of daily life restored
(Restored on paper, in theory, in abstractu)
And no more clock-racing searches, early next morning,
For whereverthehell I left my shoes (the one under his bed
A given… but did the other, pressed into service,
End up as Hoppy’s Moon-mobile or undergird the truck ramp?)—
Yes, thanks for the shoes again; but the hour
Never really was re-credited to my account.
For after seven and eight spent under furniture
Came nine and ten spent turning back-yard to ball-park.
One daily hour lost often swelled to two.
In summer it was a cinch, on any sunny day.
I shoveled him a pitcher’s mound, rigged up the fence
So that foul balls wouldn’t clear it and turn me prowler
To retrieve them from neighbors, two of whom had dogs.
We used tennis balls, so that he could know the joy
Of hitting something far yet spare the kitchen window.
In the early going of Year Nine, we could opt indoors—
The Den Municipal Stadium—where his bears,
A Clifford, a Snoopy, and various GI Joes
(Sculpted like martial-arts black-belts) lined two dug-outs
Remarkably similar to sofas, while my books
(The Tacitus I’d used in high school up among them, and
Clyde Pharr’s Iliad, from which I had learned Greek)
Forever occupied the cheap seats in deep center,
Upper deck. Crumpled Kleenex with a Scotch tape seam
Hurt no one’s noggin, and The Kid had been known
To park some of those even past Pharr (where Dad,
Now underpaid groundskeeper, had to climb at risk
Of life and limb to snitch them from the space
Twixt top shelf and ceiling, where only dustballs rolled).
But with another inch of growth, the Wrath of Mom,
And the warming weather in joint conspiracy,
Our games became more real. My suffering peach tree,
Haplessly slug-footed fielder, took some knocks,
Stuck in an unlucky spot. The suppler Fig,
Coyly coiled up the first-base line, fared better.
I met neighbors I’d never seen while tracing
The Kid’s blasts under parked cars and into flowerbeds
(Looking too overworked to be a Peeping Tom).
One time, cutting my forearms up in ornamental saw-grass,
I found a bat’s skeleton beneath the tennis ball,
Warning of the ultimate resting point’s indeterminacy
Shared by Heisenberg’s elctrons and child’s toys.
Dear God, where will it end? When they call a cop, perhaps,
Or when fangs meet my reach into some verdant, moist pocket,
Or when my bone spurs simply won’t bear me on any more
Easter Egg Hunts through dog, wasp, graveyard, and lawnmower
Between stints on the mound? Is no one in the Bull Pen?
Will I ever live to hang up the spikes?
Hang them up. Today was the final game.
Oddly enough, I can’t recall that game. There was no plaque,
No retired number, no round of applause from the stands.
I can’t place it within a month. It seemed we played
Every day, and then it seemed on any day
That we hadn’t played for months. Perhaps I lost
The thread of it in all the chauffeuring now,
Taking him hither and yon, to school and from,
Delivering him to a friend’s, collecting him from practice,
Usually in intricate concert with Mom’s schedule.
The books I browsed, the paperwork I shifted, while
Holding the limousine in readiness for His Lordship,
Were a small redemption of time I hadn’t known
In my previous incarnations as commando, conductor, spy—
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor—Big League pitcher,
Prowler, Peeping Tom. My special clipboard
Always primed with unfinished tasks-to-go,
I struck a kind of peace with this liveried existence
(Except that livery was ruined on those afternoons
That held me an extra hour between curb and glass:
Tee-shirt and jogging shorts for Jeeves, and hope to God
I will not fall under the gaze blank and pitiless as the sun
Of The Duchess collecting the Crown Prince at the same curb).
The traffic itself was the part I hated most.
Three college degrees, a brain the size of a planet, and
I am fated to play bumpercars with idiots on cell phones,
Iced Burger-Whirl Supreme in hand and mouth,
Grooving to Flip-Off or Grunge-Punk by Cranial Enema.
I shouted at the windshield words I hadn’t known I knew.
Surely this was not the destiny under whose star I had been born:
Surely some work of noble note might yet be done… if only
I could somehow be freed of the car.
The accelerator my ball and chain, I looked to heaven
And asked God why He had not spared me
An agony the Devil had never sprung on Job.
It’s over now, He said. Today was yesterday when it ended.
Odd, that I didn’t notice yesterday. His birthday
Was yesterday and then some, yet I still
Drove him and drove him after that day.
Yet now he drives himself. It’s true.
Now he doesn’t need to waste my time.
Sometimes, wasting time, I marvel at the Fig,
How wide it reaches, and the Peach now too tall
To notice any possible predations of a tennis ball.
A dozen dogs have come and gone, and may the teeth
They once cleaned on foul balls now serve them well.
Clifford and Snoopy are slack and dusty,
Somewhere in some closet, where GI Joes
Patiently await the canonization of the collectible.
The pterodactyl has nested on some cliff face so remote
That eons of closet excavation might not find it.
The papers, delaying bedtime, that dutifully met their deadline,
Have long been carbonized or bequeathed to the landfill,
Instantly uninteresting as soon as received,
All my lost time never missed by its many claimants.
And the wasted time I would have and waste again
Isn’t hiding in Joe’s jeep or Pharr’s season tickets.
All this time, I have wasted the wrong time…
Alas, you poor man.
… and I would like a little of it back, if possible.
Just enough to run over and over through my fingers,
Like sand collected from a distant seashore; just
Enough to keep me alive within the shroud I have woven.
What is declared may sometimes be undeclared
For pity’s sake. But this is not of that.
Not something granted for something asked—
Though you thought it so—ever in these cases,
But the very weave of reality, whose flow
Lives by vanishing, and where loss makes whole.
So my legs sign “U” on the bedroom carpet,
And I ponder what strings of words may come from “U”.