By James Goldberg
Since he was weaned, my son’s been hungry for the open sky—
so that now, at eighteen months, he’s a seeker and a maker of signs.
A simple knock at the air
It means: open this door
and let me ascend the concrete steps
to that greater bliss and those long lines of sight.
It means: let there be light!
Or, if the light is already waiting, let me rise to it.
Let me bask today.
Then there’s fetching the shoes;
that’s much more forceful.
To bring his own shoes is to say:
I am prepared! And don’t let this journey be withheld from me!
To bring my shoes—yes,
to cradle the massive, worn load of each size fifteen ship
and to dump it abruptly, for emphasis, at my feet—
the time has come, my father,
and can you deny your own destiny?
If all else fails,
there’s the incantation,
the syllable of power.
The hard ‘g’ means: pay attention!
(in the prophets’ terms: behold!)
And then the long ‘o’ either swells into a
bright sound of hope,
or else drags out long and plaintive:
an aching lament, the age-old burden
(the pain of separation the prophets once spoke).
Armed with this spell, he walks up to me like Moses to Pharaoh.
Go? he says. Go. Go!
When he asks, I am always busy.
When he asks, I have work to do. Feet to rest, and bones.
But when my son struggles for these signs
like a drowning man for air,
who am I to resist?
Who am I not to offer him the sweet relief
of knowing absolutely that he has been understood?
We go outside (I tell myself)
for two minutes. Just two minutes.
But soon spring is thawing my tundra-hard heart,
Soon, we cannot be contained even by the backyard.
Under the concrete of the driveway, garden snakes are stirring.
My son and I see one’s striped body from behind a leaning rock
and I remember my father, who taught me love and reverence
when he pulled our van over all at once and stepped out,
when he carried a snake away from the dangers of the road’s warm asphalt,
when he laid it down safe on the soft ground
one spring. Long ago.
(Originally published in Wilderness Interface Zone)