Child in Big Toy

They were calm because it had never happened before,
because they thought it had, it must have, when designed, 
a tunnel to fit the child but not the adult. Then how 
if a child crawled there and curled and closed her mouth, 
how to get the child out? Send another in. Send in 
someone small. They were calm because everyone 
finds reasons to be calm when there is wind or sun or 
this coat at the base of the slide, it must be the child’s,
Come out. It’s fine. Come on, now. Come out. 
They were wrong. All of them were wrong. Some thought:
a saw! Some thought: calm down! They were getting 
somewhere with their thoughts. Part of the crowd grew 
angry with the other part for making a crowd,
so one crawled up into the tube until his chest stopped 
like his breath and he saw something wrong: 
the sun made blue in the tube. Something about the sun 
and black streaks from shoes. The crowd saw the half of him
left out kick then kick wild, so they pulled the other 
half out. They sat him up and someone groaned, 
someone said Enough, now, come on. Sweetheart, enough. 
Come out. Then another crawled inside, left her coat 
by the slide, passed the streaks, saw the blue, smelled the plastic
in her mouth that comes from plastic having caught
the sun at noon, the burning soon night-cooled,
a thousand black-streak tallies to mark the cycle of shoes then 
wider shoes of older children pressed inside by two 
to touch and make the space between them small—
this one heard a sound. Someone’s calling me she thought.
I’m found. So she crawled back. Remembered all. 
Moved aside. Another tried. Lost. Another tried. 

Related Poems

Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God! Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
—mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

Things I Will Tell My Children About Destiny

                        You remind them
             of weighted tumbleweeds,
hen-egg brown. Don’t let
                        them take the rag-
             time beneath your skin.
        It stirs earth’s curvature
and a choir
of frogs 
when you enter
             or leave a room. Don’t
             leave a swallow of juice
                  or milk in the fridge.
A body grieved
is a whole new body.
             Give your shadow a name
                        big as a star, see
             yourself out loud.
Pick wild irises                         the best gifts
             roll under a ribcage, leave 
             open mouths splendid.

I like your smile unpenned.

Keep your bird-
             song close, imagine
                     an hourglass full
                         of architects and dreamers,
the first taste of fresh
             scooped ice cream.
                         You will learn to master
                         camouflage among ordinary things— 
             men who spill words
not thoughts, trigger fingers
                         ready
                         to brand loose.

I love your smile unpenned.
 

Only Child

Breakfast rained on again,
and I’m lifted up the stairs
on the breath of what
the dark of the day
might promise in its
perfect silence. The light
in my daughter’s room
has been on all night
like every night,
but the sun shifting
changes the shape
of the space from
a square into an unfolding
universe. I had always
imagined a different type
of fatherhood before
fatherhood found me, but if you
asked me to describe it now,
I don’t think I could
find the words. Try to find
a way to describe living
a few different ways at once.
For a while I imagined
there would be more attempts
at trying out what I’m still
trying to see in the room
that’s gone power out,
but the weeds in the yard
grow too quickly to be left
alone for long. I had forgotten
the strangeness of a humid
February. I had forgotten
all that makes up the memories
that need me to exist. It was
easier to carve out a place
before I had words to describe
it. Now looking back feels
like looking forward. I am 
drawing a self-portrait
and trying to remove the self.