To the Son of My Mother’s Second Husband
We owned summer, those first few years,
spending the hours freely, going where we pleased—
down to the tracks, our pockets heavy with pennies
to turn into marvels of erasure, then to Garman’s
Hobby Shop for model kits, to the National Five
and Dime, where we’d invest plentiful minutes
deciding whether to buy Gold Rush chewing gum
or Pixy Stix, candy lipstick or sugar cigarettes,
red wax lips or pastel flying saucer wafers. We wore
summer out, playing mumbley-peg in the yard,
catching crayfish at the lake, riding our bikes
to the pool at McCarty Park. The last photo I saw
of you, a boxwood shrub seemed to have sprouted
from your head. When you were a boy, your wild
hair embarrassed you, and you’d jam a knit hat on
after washes, hoping to contain its exuberance.
Woolly, is how I would describe it, like you might
require shearing. Pale black sheep, you grazed freely
on your father’s money. Your copious pharmacopoeia
had needs, I suppose. The last time I heard your voice,
you’d phoned in the middle of the night to ask
if you could hide out at my place. How can I know
every detail of your boyhood—your love of magic,
judo, and that Addams Family Thing bank, the way
you curled up, winter mornings before school, under
the end table beside the vent to warm your fragile
boy body with the stinking heat of the oil furnace—
and know so little about your tumble into senescence—
what brought you to California, then Lincoln City,
how you died, whether there was someone to push
the mop of your hair from your face, to kiss your brow,
to whisper I’m here. Who could have guessed the threads
that bound us together—those summer days, too many
holidays and family dinners to count—might so easily fray?
If only, as your father sometimes lamented, my mother
had in your life arrived sooner, if only she’d had more time
to civilize you, to show you what a mother’s love was.
If only. If only. Then maybe, just maybe, your thicket
of hair would have been the only thing to go oh-so feral.
Editor’s Note: This poem’s detailed narrative imagery creates a childhood story with great love and then shows how easily (and painfully) all of it can go astray as lives inevitably walk away from each other.