Through fathoms

leagues

That evening in the leaf pile,
My daughter told me that the sky was the surface of the sea,
And that the trees were many-tentacled,
And that we had to hide by the steps until they left.

The dangers lingered,
Impotent until imagined,
And waving ominous puckered arms,
And we shrieked as we ran
(Such fun to be afraid).
The creatures missed us in the shadows by the bench,
And we tumbled back into the foamy reef.

Perhaps the moon shimmered down
From a higher sky through oceans clear as air,
Or maybe it was phosphorus undulating through the waves.

Whatever it was that lit the deep,
We paddled on through auburn piles
And waded among the grasses, strewn like so much seaweed on our path.
And as we lay in leaves looking up
Through fathoms
Speckled with brown and yellow schools of falling fish,
The deep, deep sky reflected us back
And we felt free
In the peaceful rush of the tide.

We saw and understood something
Of life and its mercies,
Leagues below the sky.

trainspotting

trainspotting

I wonder at your wonder, child
And how it is you hold
Such wonder in those eyes so wild,
For my eyes are so old.

While fresh and new you see each day
My life’s in memories
Which, viscous, float and dip and sway
Like bubbles on the breeze.

That train, it’s bigger than the world
And worthy to be noted,
That name emphatic, sung and hurled,
As if from God you’ve quoted.

And I sit here, so full of years,
(At least it seems to me);
Perhaps it’s all my pride and fears
That change all that I see.

O soak my soul in present light,
And cashmere sky and rain:
Seeing like my children might,
And small before the train.

The Map

piratemap

The playground near me is small, like me. Mom says it’s just my size. I like it because it has a tall slide. But today there’s a kid at the top.

He sticks out his tongue at me.
“This is my slide.”
I tell him that the park district owns the slide.
“No, I’m on it so I own it.”
I ask if I can have a turn.
“You can’t slide until I’m done.”
I ask how long it will be.
“Hours.” And he spits over the side at me.

He misses, and some of it gets on his sweater. I watch him. He wipes himself off and watches me.

I think about my options.

He is bigger than me, so I can’t push him.
He won’t listen to me, so I can’t talk to him.

I walk to the sandbox nearby and sit on a corner with my back to him. I set my backpack down and suddenly notice a crinkled corner of paper in the side pocket. I pull it out and examine it. It has markings and numbers and x’s on it. It has ink smudges everywhere, and it looks old.

The kid slides to the bottom and climbs back up. He slides again. He climbs again. I think he watches me out of the corner of his eye.

I count under my breath as I look at the paper. I look over my shoulder at him. He sees me do it, and I quickly turn back. I stand, and with my head down I mark out paces by the sandbox.

He slides, but doesn’t climb.
“What are you doing?”
Nothing.
“What’s that you’ve got?”
Nothing.
“No, seriously. Let me see.”
It’s a map.
“For what?”
Not telling.

He comes closer and watches me. I stop pacing and look at him.
“Seriously. What’s the map for?”
I glance over each shoulder, then whisper.
Can you keep a secret?

His eyes get big and he leans in.
“Yeah!”
What’s your name?
“Ben.”
Mine’s Pete. Nice to meet you.
“What’s the map about?”
It looks like a map to buried treasure.
“No way.”
Yes way.
“What kind of treasure?”
I don’t know yet. Do you want to help me find it?

He considers.
“What if you’re lying?”
I’m not lying about it. I could use your help to get it.
“Okay. What’s your name?”
Pete.
“I’m Ben.”
Nice to meet you.
“Where do we start?”

We pace along the walls of the sandbox together, looking carefully at the map. It leads us from the sandbox, around a tree at right angles, toward the gate.

Take Elm to the corner of Madison. We get our bikes. Ben has a cool blue ten-speed with racing stripes. He brags about how he got it for his birthday from his rich uncle. I got mine from my mom. It’s smaller, but fast and red and it has a bell that sounds like a boatswain’s whistle. He thinks that’s pretty cool. He says his bike was so expensive that his mom couldn’t afford it so his uncle got it for him.

We bike to Madison. A riddle about a tiny house with books living in it. There’s a house with a little box lending library attached. They have Sea of Monsters. He likes Tyson. I like Grover. We debate.

We check the number by the riddle against a page number. There’s a yellow post-it note with my address on it – “beware the front gate; go to the back.” The back gate is unlocked. We pace thirteen, left four, right twenty, and find a pile of fresh dirt and two trowels. We unearth a cardboard chest.

Inside are two pirate outfits, two foam swords, and a basket full of chocolate gold coins.

“Sweet! You be Jack Sparrow, I’ll be Blackbeard!”
Okay!

We spar and walk the plank and leap from piles of mulch. We eat too many coins. Ben does a great parrot impression.

Dad walks out the back with lemonade.
“Who’s your friend, Pete?”
This is Ben.
“Hi Ben! Cool swords.”
Ben waves it at him and growls.
“Arrrr ye landlubber!”

We get lemonade.

Dad catches me looking at his hand, and wipes a smudge of black ink from it. He winks.

I turn to Ben.

Come on, let’s go hunting for treasure again.

small (a lullaby)

lullaby

Sleep, my child, sleep,
While the kings and queens of nations you do not know
Rage and squabble about issues that never cross your mind.
They are nothing but names to you, and the names hold no fear.
Would that I held them in the same esteem.

Sleep, my child, sleep,
While the thunder of public opinion roils around us,
In the eye of the storm, may you rest;
Your ballot cast for more cookies after dinner,
For the freedom to stay up late,
To run out into the chilly night and jump in leaf piles,
To go barefooting, squealing at the cold.
You see this world more clearly, because it is small and you are small.
Would that I remember I am small, and our world is small.

Sleep, my soul, sleep.
The setting of your story
Is to be where you are now.
Your God will call you forward
Through nights black and warfare grim,
Set your mind in the hammock of His will,
Rest your heart under blankets of peace.
Past understanding, pillow your hope.
In the night of mystery, find grace.
In the prayers of the saints, see long and wide and high and deep into history and into future,
And live.