1963 was my sister’s last best year.
In California she watched cartoons
on Saturday mornings; after the move to Oregon
she made mud pies on the back porch
and watched them dry and crack in
the heat of the summer. She half-washed
carrots from our garden in the creek
that ran by our house and ate them
on the footbridge. It was a good year.
Later, much later, my father said
it was the right thing to do, placing her
in the loony bin. And now I see it too.
Looking back, she came out of there shining,
looking forward to having two kids and
a good husband, the move to Illinois;
even the difficulty in her joints
that would eventually plague her she gladly
anticipated when they finally let her out.
What happened in between was she
became an artist, not the kind who paints
or even writes, but the kind who sees
the world for what it really is,
like a scientist sees it. My sister,
the artist, had to learn to look away.
She had to learn to pretend the
only things in the world are those
you can count or put in a notebook.
And now, of course, she’s fine.
I’d like to tell you this:
if it gets tough watching the
evening news, look out.
The guy who couldn't see color
On some show this old guy cries for joy when he sees color for
the first time. Maybe seeing color is a desire we’re born with,
I think, or maybe he already has an expectation of something
really special because he’s been preached at his whole life about
how much he’s been missing, like the kid who feels all left out because
the other kids got measles and he didn’t, not that seeing color
is like getting measles, but maybe seeing only black and white is
something we’d choose, if we could, probably not. But then, what
has color ever done for us?
Nyel might not walk again. He got that black and white news
from a green hospital full of multi-colored machines,
not one of which will help him regain his apathetic white leg,
and I wonder if having two legs that work is a desire we’re born with,
or is there a way one leg is better?
Poetry sometimes pushes the personal into the vast, revealing
a lesson we can sometimes agree with. Not here. I just want to tell you
about Nyel, how for so many years he loved to work, to run his red
bookstore, to cook colorful meals, to move his two good legs.
I saw a pink skateboarder today on my way to a brown coffee shop.
He was moving down the sidewalk really good,
but he had no legs and a purple shirt and I have no way
to tell you how that has left me.
There’s all this talk about how there is no such thing
as time, or there is, or it’s linear, or symmetrical,
whatever. I think of it like a bank account,
how when you’re young there never seems to be
enough to pay your bills but really you had enough
all the time and later you think you have more than
you can use, like sometimes you wake up scared
that there won’t be enough events to fill up your day.
If you’re lucky you can start reinvesting, banking
time while you’re lying there thinking about nothing,
and giving it back to someone, like you’re standing
at the intersection next to a guy in some car who’s
in a hurry and you wave him through, you wave him
through your right of way, stay an extra second
at the crossroads, maybe even look up at
Red Bluff to see the new way the shadows are
deflecting light off the cliffs this fine morning.