Piggie, our pet black pot-bellied pig, has lived long enough for all of my four sons to bring him his daily slops bucket, made up of peelings from daily meal preparations and unwanted meal leftovers. At first the boys thought it was cool to feed the pig. But then Winter came, and the slops bucket needed to be taken out every day in freezing temperatures (usually at night because they had neglected to do it during the day), and the water bucket froze and the ice needed to be broken every day, and I insisted that the smelly slops bucket be rinsed out before being brought back inside to its place under the kitchen sink, the chore became less glamorous. Piggie lives on. On occasion a family member hopes out loud that the pig will choke on an avocado pit, but only in jest. (This poem tells of the slop bucket chore from the John’s perspective ten years ago, with me, his dad, looking on. Hyrum took the photo today. The poem relates to the post Chapter 13: Of Goats and a Pot-Bellied Pig on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
The wintry day was gone,
the frosty night full on,
and Dad held the slop bucket out.
“You forgot your chore, son,
and the pig is hungry.
You’ll have to go out,
though it’s cold and it’s dark.”
I stomped and I cried;
I begged him not to send me out
into the fog-filled frosty night.
But Dad just handed me the brim-full bucket.
“I’ll keep the porch light on:
you’ll be fine.”
Dressed for the cold,
I heaved on the handle,
and stepped into the night.
My skin all goosebumpy,
I followed the frozen-mud path
through the tall, stiff iron grass.
A low rumbled grunt
made me start, and then shiver,
and look warily around
at dim shadows and darkness.
Pig stood at the gate in patient anticipation.
“Here pig,” I snorted, and dumped the warm slop.
As pig smacked and slurped,
a white vapor rose like a phantom,
and I turned to run the way I’d come.
On the porch, in the light, stood my dad,
in his slippers, arms crossed in plaid flannel.
He smiled at me as I came.
I warmed, then, because
I knew I’d done good;
so did he.
I knew I’d done right;
so did he.
And I knew I’d grown up just a tad.
—You are my best friend and my big buddy.—
(John-3 to Dad)
The day-old chicks arrived at the store in a box delivered by U.S. mail. While I had ordered only half-a-dozen specialty breed pullets, they came boxed with two dozen unsexed White Leghorns for cushioning and warmth. I had hung a heat lamp—a warm if impersonal surrogate for their mothers’ downy breasts—in a makeshift pen because the chicks were too tiny and frail to generate enough of their own body heat against the chilly Spring nights. The hanging lamp radiated light and heat downward to make a spot of warmth in the straw where the chicks gathered close to rest. I don’t think they ever fully slept, for the light. But they were warm and safe and comfortable. Continue reading →
Each morning as I leave for work I cross paths with my children. They each require a hug (or two or three) as I run out the door. I am often late and anxious to get away. Sometimes I protest, “Just let me go, guys” or “You already hugged me once” or “I’m just going to work.” When I slow down and live more mindfully, I stop and put my briefcase on the floor to give them a genuine embrace and a smile and a kind word, perhaps “I love you” or “Have a great day”. If I really pay attention to these moments of connection, I notice a subtle but distinct feeling of goodness and happiness, a sense that something in life has changed for the better. This poem is about one of those moments when I suppressed my natural tendency to hurry on to the next task and allowed myself to slow down and see what really needing doing. See the related Chapter 12: Worm Sign post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
ACROSS THE DAY
Down the stairs he stepped,
pulling up a pant leg
to expose to me
yesterday’s skinned knee
and today’s unabashed want
“It still hurts,” he whimpered
as I flew toward the door
with my briefcase and bagel.
“And you forgot.”
With guilty remembrance, I stopped
and lifted him to a counter top.
With guilty haste I rummaged through a drawer
for a bandage and soothing ointment.
“It feels better already,” he sighed,
his smile following me
out the door, down the highway,
and across the day.
So many times I have caught myself reflecting on the fact that I am as old in a given moment, involved with one of my children, as my father was when involved in the same way with me: camping, throwing a baseball, swimming and sailing at scout camp, choosing not to spank a stubborn child, asking about girlfriends, counseling through challenges, on bent knees begging for a child’s welfare. I often sense a melding and shifting of the generations, from me being the child to being the father of a child, and yet I remain the child. I muse on this time-defying phenomenon in this poem, Generations, and on the Chapter 11: Austin post listed in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.
I am the center and the circumference,
the present and the past.
The generations are one before me,
the memories of years
a single infinite scene,
shifting and stirring within me,
slowly moving to embrace the future
even as it becomes the past.
I am at once a boy and a man,
a son and a father,
my child: my father: myself.
I gaze at my child
my father gazing at me
a father’s agony,
as I look to my father,
and my child looks to me.
Hannah (8) has added me to her bedtime routine. “I was wondering,” she begins, “if you could maybe sing me a few short songs tonight.” I sit on the edge of her princess bed and sing her one of my little songs, or a song from my 1970 Mister Rogers’ Songbook, a prized if tattered possession. A song only takes a minute. But many nights I feel burdened and tired. The thought of answering to one more child’s needs sometimes overwhelms me. It’s just one song, I say to myself with a sigh, and succumb. From the first note I feel glad that I didn’t give in to the excuse of being weary. A song only takes a minute. Here is one of my favorite songs. I wrote it years ago in response to a child’s request for a song from Dad. It is sweet, calming, and, best of all, short. The perfect lullaby for nights when Dad just needs to say “good-night” and go be by himself, or go to bed. I hope that you will sing it to your little ones. If you are so inclined, sing it through twice. A song only takes a minute.
My boots crunch loudly on Rabbit Lane’s loose gravel. The noise reverberates in the air and in my brain and distracts me from the peaceful quiet of my surroundings. I imagine the noise to be similar to that of chewing crisp carrots with tight earphones on. I find myself wandering within the roadway in search of the path of least noise generation potential. Part of me doesn’t want to startle the wildlife, which in turn startles me with a sudden rustling of wings or splashing of water. I also don’t want to interfere with nature’s soft voices. A bigger part of me simply doesn’t want to draw attention to myself, not even from the animals. On Rabbit Lane, at least, I can be free of critical eyes and voices. Still, even here, alone, I instinctively avoid the noise that would bring the attention of looks and whispers in other places. Continue reading →
–Wherever I am, I find that the road stretches both ahead and behind.–
From the airport lighthouse shine alternating beams of white and green light, ghostly sweeping columns in the crystalline air against the undersides of low-hanging clouds. Here, walking in this desert, I imagine a lighthouse perched on a craggy rock cliff, overlooking ocean waves beating themselves in ferocious crashes against the rock, and ships with trimmed sails rocking, taking on water, close to sinking, with frantic, frightened sailors looking to the light as to a savior, the only thing in the world they can cling to, trust in. Continue reading →