Evening Walk as the School Year Starts
When was the last lobotomy, I wonder? Too late for Carl at least, whom it’s all but hopeless to think of as a whipsaw of hateful passion that would if it could have torn up his mother and father, mild as they are; but that's how old villagers say Carl acted before he was cut. Their smiles are rueful. They shake their heads, subtle. A raven, unsubtle, grates from a hemlock as Carl steps into sight. His wave's familiar: he jerks and drops one palm. How old must he be? He's ageless. His eyes are empty— the operation. He turns now: ninety degrees, then ninety again like a sentry, the other way. He turns the same on each warm evening, retreating past the house of our mutual neighbor, who will not speak to Carl's father, for reasons likely beyond recall. It seems a shame not to edit grievances. It’s some awful stink nearby that draws the raven, but the rest of the world seems fixed on the morbid too: a squirrel keeps pouring spruce cones down at me; a gall-blighted butternut groans; the broadleafs wilt; there's a pair of toads at my feet that wheels have flattened side by side, like cartoon icons of failure; mosquitoes strafe me, a mammoth dragonfly— one of the season's last—attacks a moth so close to me I can hear the fatal click. The other day a son went off to college. His mother and I are quietly beside ourselves. We embrace each other harder now, and vow, as one vows, to love our children harder too. Though I hum to distract myself, the raven dives loud as gunfire through brush to its mess. I jump, but Carl doesn't seem to hear. I watch him limp to his family's drive—then again that sure right angle. Like him, our family finds a virtue in order: we rise at six to eat our breakfasts together, then make a certain sandwich for one of the girls, a certain one for the other; we leave at seven; we gather the girls promptly at end of school. Carl opens his door and shuts it—click—behind him. It's after Labor Day, it's end-of-summer, it’s another season upon us. Now he scolds me, that squirrel on his branch, his store of weapons gone. Why me, dumb brute? I haven’t done anything wrong, I’ve got no grievance with him—not with anyone really. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide. The wishing star is not enough to light the space around me while this bit of hymn from my schooldays plays, while daytime’s creatures crawl to cover, and night ones, having no choice, confront the night.
"Evening Walk as the School Year Starts" is from Ghost Pain by Sydney Lea, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. ©2005 by Sydney Lea. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books and the author.