I took a break from writing about the dead
and drinking from writing about the dead
to walk around my childhood neighborhood.
Everything’s for rent. Or for sale, for ten
times the amount it’s worth.
Palm trees are planted in front of a mural
of palm trees under the Ocean Park Bridge.
In the painting, the metal horses of a carousel are breaking
free and running down the beach. Why didn’t I leave
my initials in cement
in front of my parent’s apartment in the eighties?
Nikki had the right idea in ’79.
I walk by a basketball court, where men play
under the florescent butts of night’s cigarette.
I could have been any of their wives,
at home, filling different rooms in different houses
with hopeful wombs. Agreeing on paint color
samples with their mothers in mind.
I’ll bet their wives let their cats go out
hunting at night like premonitions of future sons.
They will worry, stare out the front window,
pray that privilege doesn’t bring home bad news
like some wilted head of a black girl in nascent jaws.
To say nothing of the owl who’s been here for years. I hear him
when I’m trying to write about the deaths I’ve admired.
I hear him when the clothed me no longer recognizes
the naked. I hear him while writing and shitting and sleeping
where my mother’s seven guitars sleep.
I hear him in my parent’s house,
their walls covered in my many faces,
traces of decades of complacence.
My childhood neighborhood is a shrine to my success,
and I’m a car with a bomb inside, ready
to pull up in front of it and stop
Copyright © 2015 by Amber Tamblyn. Used with permission of the author.
but I remember sitting alone on the brown couch in my grandmother’s living room, couch whose cushion covers were of velvet and the color of dark rust, or dried blood —and sewn by the tailor from up the block, the same one who made me my first light blue suit two years earlier And I sat there running my hands back and forth over the short smooth hairs of the fabric and understanding what touch meant for the first time—not touch, the word, as in don’t touch the hot stove or don’t touch your grandfather’s hats but touch like Tom Jones was singing it right then on the television, with a magic that began in his hips, swiveled the word and pushed it out through his throat into some concert hall somewhere as a two-syllabled sprite, so that women moaned syllables back in return. And I knew I wanted to touch like that because Tom Jones stooped down at the edge of the stage and a woman from the audience in a leopard-print jumpsuit unfurled from her front row seat, walked like a promise of what I couldn’t quite discern up to him and pushed her mouth soft and fast up against his mouth and they both cooed into his microphone mouths still move-moaning together like that for an eternity. And then Tom Jones unlocks his mouth from hers while my breath is still caught in my throat, and moves to the other end of the stage, and squats there, and kisses another woman from the audience in a black jumpsuit, while the first woman looks on, swaying so slightly I almost can’t tell—to the band which is still vamping the chorus line— mesmerized and taut with expectation as I am, palms down on the velvet-haired cushions and Tom pauses, sensing the first woman’s impatient almost-mewling and says Easy Tiger while he moves his mouth against this woman’s, his cheeks working like tiny bellows, before returning to the first one and then the bridge or the chorus or whatever—at that point the song is an afterthought, and I knew there was a mission to be fulfilled—Tom Jones pointed to the women and said touch and the new color TV made everything shimmer with promise so my eight year old body preened and stretched itself against the ecstatic couch and dreamed of what tomorrow could be like if I could make touch mean so many things, if I could make a building or a body coo like this.
My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board. My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit. Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special. (Stumick and speshul?) I could play tag all day and always be "it." Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me. My mom and my dad—like Ted's—could want a divorce. Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan. (Who's Afghanistan?) Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse. My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver. My dad could decide that I needed less TV. Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing. (I'm better at printing.) Chris could decide to stop being friends with me. The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday. The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head. I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about. And then I'd have to do my homework instead.
From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981. Used with permission.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.