The grown child rides in the backseat, only half-listens
as Mom and Pop bicker. Lapses into sizzle
of splash beneath them. His hometown lit for Christmas
blurs at the car window; he’s back
in that landscape he’d ached in more than half a life ago
where he wanted absolutely nothing
more than guts enough to run away.
And what was so terrible? They neither
beat him nor mistreated him more than most
kids are forbidden in front of their parents to be who they really are.
Funny how willful seldom get what they ask for. He’d asked
his parents (hadn’t he?) over and over in the absence
of his emotions, the ghost of good behavior—gulping his liver
and onions with tall glasses of whole milk—
swallowing the unspoken prayer at the table
that Mom and Dad quit the squabble, stuff it
like he’d learned he had to. A solid couple
dozen years later nothing’s changed
and everything’s different: same old man at the wheel
and old lady crabbing beside him. They’ve shrunk
to rodent-size, wrinkled and gray, eyes wide
with magnified terror of the nearsighted. Hardly
worth whatever anger he’d ever held for them.
And somehow closer now, everyone.
Mom and Pop squall in a dialect needing both mouths
to mix the words right, while the son sits like a stone at his post,
listening, but not. Mumbling lines they expect
of his visits year by year. And smiling to recall
the song he invented that night, hidden
in the closet of the practice room, a brick wall
between himself and the high school band’s Yuletide concert;
his parents sleepy in the blindness beyond stage lights,
applauding what they assumed they could hear.
—from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Lowell Jaeger: “Before I learned to read, I’d hide in the closet with a flashlight and my older brother’s school books. I’d copy the books, word for word, into a wide-ruled tablet. I knew the syllables were saying things I hadn’t discovered yet. To this day, I feel the same about language. I hand-write drafts of my poems painstakingly, to puzzle out what’s still unknown.” (web)