Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dug In: The View From The Third Generation \ A Long Drive For Dinner

Nancy:  Maybe it’s good to learn that stress and ambiguities exist and that there are times to relax and times to step lightly, to learn it as a child.

Dug In: The View From The Third Generation

Winter was war.  When the poplar flung
its tiny white trembling flags of truce into April,
I sighed.  Truce was as good as peace.

I came out from under the table, uncovered my ears.
Yes, April meant the laying up of swords; I heard
the sliss, sliss, of steel in earth.
it soothed me.

Granny said, watch the trees,
watch the leaves,
wait until the leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear.
With seed in our hands,
we watched the fragile green-furred leaves;
when they had grown sharp, and round, and of a size
like a mouse’s ear, we bent, we planted.

Papa said, the ground must be neither too wet
nor too dry.  He took it in his hand, testing, and at last
a day came when it crumbled and fell away, a signal,
and he hoed a trench.
I followed him, dropping seed;
we covered it together.  With our brown fists,
we pounded, together, we pounded the soil.

Our gardens grew spears, flags, bright mouths.
I could listen; there were old songs, I learned how
the grandmothers had lived, I learned to whistle on grass,
on willow stems, to make dolls and arrows and slings.
I whittled sharp knives of wood, and hid them under the ferns
and in the rhubarb leaves.

Our gardens grew.  And when they were most beautiful, I overheard
Granny say, you never did . . .
Papa say, you never could . . .
Both say, you never will . . .
Sliss.  Sliss. The sound of the knives of war.
I hid in the tomatoes.

Alan:  If, like me, you grew up when cars didn’t have radios – at least not the cars my family could afford – you learned to while away the long miles by singing, a habit that persists with me even now.  This poem, like the journey it describes, starts slowly but picks up speed as it goes.

A Long Drive For Dinner
                    Thanksgiving, 1996

Over the river
and through the woods
and through the woods
and through the woods
and through the woods
and over another river
and through more woods
and through more woods
and through more woods
and over some other rivers
with Indian names
like Narraguagus
or prosaic whitebread names
like Pleasant, Union, Fore and Back,
and through the farm fields, bare and brown,
and dead-grass hayfields
and little villages
a bunch of towns
a few small cities
(Ellsworth Portland Worcester)
and on into other woods
between the cities-towns-villages-fields
driving all the short day
into dark and still driving
and over the last great river,
the Connecticut,
to grandmother’s house – no –
not grandmother’s, my aunt’s,
my aunt’s house, grandmother’s long sold
and grandmother’s creamed onions
that we ate beyond satiety
and still she demanded we have more
until sometimes we got sick
just a recollection in the tastebuds, fat
in the arteries
and grandmother too just a memory
of fat little soaps
scented and
shaped like seashells
and grandfather: his memory is
musty cellar stairs, oil-stained concrete
in a garage too neat, too tidy,
a disappointed man:
gone now both
over the river
the beautiful beautiful river
which I do not want to cross
today and not – dear god please not –
go over any rivers through white and drifting
snow blinding the traffic
filling the woods
silencing the slick white roads,
not drifting or wet-heavy-packed
snow not like sometimes,
especially I remember once
with my girlfriend (wife) (ex-wife)
and the Greyhound breaking down
30 miles out from Hartford
and we hitchhiking,
the snow stopping, temperature falling,
to arrive in the same wood-paneled
warmth the same house my aunt’s house
that I always arrive in
in my dreams
arriving back in a time
when my uncle too can turn to greet us,
little hand-lettered markers
marking our places
and the joy
of being there together, like the joy,
as a child, of finding my place
moved from the children’s table
to the grownup’s and my marker
marking this joy and also the
pain of not being ready, not being ready
to grow up, to look
back at childhood, at the small table
of children at the end of the big
table of grownups, to get old, to go
over that river
we all are thrust into
ready or not
the river of disappointments
river of Lethe of Styx
or even the beautiful
river of Jordan
and it hardly matters
with so many of us here,
together, swimming or splashing
or floating or maybe even
over the river,
over the river

“Dug In: The View From The Third Generation” first appeared in Poet Lore.

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