A Mother’s Son

When I was a boy, I was a boy
and this exasperated everyone
but my mother,
for she understood the ways of boys
and I was her third, with her own three
older brothers; her patience
was limitless,
or so I thought until I tried to become a man,
failed, but refused to admit failure
and discovered we were both navigating and
negotiating a new way together; for each
boy is alike, but boys become men differently.

Advertisements

What’s more than more…

There isn’t always, always more
to season’s joys or love’s embrace
to mothers’ love or men’s war
there isn’t always, always grace.

When what’s lost is lost indeed
not misplaced but put away
not forgot but must concede
when what’s not stolen is gone today.

To do what’s asked, asked of one,
with true design, studied course
with stoic aspect, end undone
to do without will, without remorse.

Life entombed, entombed unbound,
this coward bent and now crushed,
this hero followed and crowned,
life unearthed, death hushed.

There isn’t always, always more
when the promised one, only one
when none are left, left but for
there isn’t always, always none.

Da Yu

Yu-the-Great_proj-copy-700x420

This is the story of Da Yu, who we saw walking along a roadside on the early evening of one Sunday – Easter Sunday of all Sundays – and a child asked “What’s that man’s story?”

So this is Da’s story.

Yu the Great was the founder of the Xia Dynasty over four thousand years ago. Yu’s father attempted to control a great flood that threatened land and life. He built dikes and damns of soil and rock to hold back and contain the waters. He failed.

The great flood continued. Yu was conscripted to do what his father could not. Instead of restraining the great flood, Yu dredged deeper channels in rivers and valleys to carry the great flood to distant rivers and distant seas.

He opened waterways, unearthed damns and removed dikes with hard labor in long days. He was covered with the same dirt and mud his father struggled to amass, but Yu was washed clean in the rushing flood he did not resist. Yu succeeded in the task his father failed, and he was given the name Yu the Great – Da Yu.

Today Da wears his suit. The blue one He has just the one and he’s only ever had just the one. So, Da wears it. As dusk begins to cover this late April afternoon, along a road he’d built, Da Yu walks in his blue suit and white shirt – his shirt as white as his full head of thick hair – he walks home, alone.

As a young man Da Yu was pushed in one direction and pulled in another – he didn’t want what his father demanded for him and yet would not refuse what he must do.

Mr. Yu – Da’s father – insisted, “You will not be like me.” The hard life of manual labor had strengthened the father’s back and his resolve as well, and he was determined that his son would not live such a hard life because he didn’t have to live like his father had to: “I work so you can learn to do better work; not so hard work, and you will be happy and not tired like me.”

On his eighteenth birthday Da received just one gift from his parents – a blue suit. It was as expensive for Mr. Yu as it was important, “You will wear a suit and not dungarees.”

But this changed the day Mr. Yu came home lame.

Mr. Yu would not cry in front of his wife and son – he would yell and stomp and curse, but Da knew his father cried when Da was forced to give up on his father’s plans and dreams. The boss of the road crew Mr. Yu worked said that Da could have the work until Mr. Yu was healthy. Mr. Yu barked “Never!” but he never was healthy again. As a man of hard labor, he withered each day he was lame, and willed from his bed – fighting back the inevitable – the victory that eluded him. Mr. Yu never worked again and Da worked every day for forty years from that day.

Not long after Da wore the suit to his father’s funeral.

He wore it when he asked a sweet girl named Sarah to marry him, and he wore it when they married in her church.

He wore it when his boy Sun was christened for Sarah’s sake, and he wore it the Sunday he went to church each year on Easter. She didn’t ask much and he knew this was to please Sarah’s family because they were concerned about Da, and that Sarah was settling for a man who lacked dreams; a man who did not fight back, a man who simply nodded. All this Da knew but it was never spoken of – there was nothing to be gained and little that would change if he protested. He would work his hard work and wear his dungaree, and save his blue suit for special days to be remembered.

In his first years, Da’s skin became tanned and leathery from summers and winters, the cold, rain and heat of long, hard days. His hair was black and thick and covered his head, and a cap only made him sweat so he avoided his. The crew chided Da that he yellowed in the sun. Sarah worried that he worked too many hours, but a was happy to work and he was healthy and would do whatever was asked and he worked hard. When asked he would simply nod; he was glad to work. He did not refuse hard work.

Da didn’t get bigger or fatter or stooped like the others with whom he worked. Younger men took their places and the next generation took up the same lament – work is hard and the best work is no work.

But Da was healthy and quiet and bosses wished they had a dozen Yu’s but hired more of the others instead. Da’s hair did turn white; not gray – white and pure.

When his child, Sun was a young boy he would asked his father what he did, why his skin was so dark and rough, and why his hair was white like snow. Da always answered that he worked in the sun and rain and snow, so his skin showed he worked hard, and his hair just showed outside what was inside. But the boy didn’t understand.

Sarah was kind to Da; gentle and affectionate – she called him Yu-Yu, lovingly, and she was understanding of his labor. What he earned he gave his family and took little for himself. She worked herself when Sun started school, and she’d ask him to take a day to rest, but he’d always refuse, “What would I do if it wasn’t working?” he’d answer.

When they had time they’d take walks together, with Sun in a stroller, then the three on foot; always just walks that took different paths, along different roads and streets and returned them to their small home. It was the home Da’s father and mother had, the home Da had grown up in, the home Sarah and Da moved into after they were married to care for his mother, and the home she died in one night and their home since the day Da wore his suit to his mother’s funeral.

Da didn’t dream dreams of a different life, and he refused the nightmares of his own son’s life. There was only discontent in such dreams, and Da’s way was a nod and not a dream. He never bought Sun a suit – he could afford to, he had the money, but the thought never occurred to him.

When Sun grew, his mother and father helped when they could with clothes and books and papers that proved their modesty, but Sun grew embarrassed. The very things that showed their love were too modest for their son. Soon Sun was off to school, but Da and Sarah didn’t visit their son until his graduation when Da wore his suit and Sarah coughed through commencement. It was a cough that came one day and stayed, keeping her away from work, in bed eventually being cared for in the evenings by Da who stopped taking the walks.

The next time Da wore his suit it was to Sarah’s funeral.

Sun moved away and stayed away, but Da kept working, now less with shovel and more with a sign that read Stop and Slow. And he again walked at the end of each day, retracing the same paths and same roads and streets he’d walked with Sarah and Sun. He lived in the same home but it became more of a house. He washed his clothes, his own dungarees, made his rice and worked only his own hours until they told him he’d worked enough and not to come back tomorrow.

And then he’d wait each day until it was time to take the walk at the day’s end, walking the same paths and same roads and same streets he’d walked with his Sarah and Sun. And on Easter Sunday each year he’d put on his blue suit and leave it on all day, until the day’s end and he’d walk along the street he’d paved.

Quiet and loud…

imagine a time
when all’s quiet and loud
at once,
the children’s cries
of laughter crisscrossing
the air, scattering
and careening here
and there,
bills are due, money’s not,
work’s always waiting,
sleep is fleeting,
the windows are drafty,
the weather adverse,
the news is always bad,
and not every I love you
can be trusted,
but all’s quiet and loud
at once
and I don’t want it
any other way.

Every time I look at the moon…

Now we lay them down to sleep
with soft words and
warm water to wash away their day’s
fun and soil, and our toil;
and pray as if to
capture what shouldn’t
be washed away – the day full
of family and friends,
walks and flowers, breezes
and sun, falls and laughs and food,
with gratitude – always – we
each begin: ‘Thank you, Lord Jesus
for everything,’
and everything we rehearse,
is good, in detail,
as if the Almighty
was enjoying this as much
as we; the sun
has retreated slowly and
warmly, the moon
is rising outside the window
and we all need to see
it waxing or waning and
tell each other to look, ‘The moon!’
we each say
as if it’s always special,
and somehow it always is.

He might have been god…

The Name of God

I never knew the name of the man in the red vest,
with seven pockets and a knife sharpened pencil,
fingers dirtied with iron dust from picking nails,
clipping lengths of rope or showing men how-to
just about everything there is to-do that drove them
to the hardware store early on a Saturday morning,
every Saturday morning with my father who looks
and carefully lingers, sorting through nuts and bolts
waiting for our turn to ask about the broken part
dirtying my Dad’s palm and me wondering why
my father who knew everything didn’t know this;
I stared at the man’s boots that looked like
they were never new, his navy blue pants with
bottom inch turned-up into a cuff holding sawdust
as he told, then showed Dad the how-to to-do
and I nodded along with them like I understood it all;
I never knew his name, but it might have been God.

Looking for elbow grease…

Elbow Grease

I spent hours one day when just a boy
searching through the shelves of cans
and tins and tubs, of liquids and oils and
paints and lubricants with numbers
and names of weights and uses from
maintenance to remedies for sticky,
stubborn and/or stuck things for something
called elbow grease which I had never seen
or heard of until my father told me that was
what I lacked to loosen or tighten or tinker
with my bicycle’s training wheels which
I desperately wanted to remove although
warned that I’d fall because I wasn’t ready.