Copyright © 2019 by Douglas Hyde
IN THE RAIN
Rush of damp air—
the rain comes.
Grass and ferns shed water into our boots
as we hurry toward the trees
and the rocky trail angling up the east face of Paine Mountain
then down into town.
Although we are relieved not to have a whole day of it
the rain is no surprise.
Water drips down our necks,
sweat steams up our glasses,
muddy water and grit penetrate our socks,
Ben’s insect repellant washes into our mouths,
Black flies rise to our faces.
We retell old miseries of camping in rain
as we pick our way,
stubborn about appreciating
strewn over dull stubble of early spring,
delicate counterpoints to bold Swamp Marigolds.
Invisible in the tree tops
Red Eyed Vireos sing on and on.
You are smiling.
Rivulets of warm rain run down my wrist,
my palm slippery in yours
as if sealing a blood oath.
LITTLE DEATHS OF FALL
This early dark
collects all the little deaths of fall,
and underneath chilly, sifting rain
the house shoulders its silence.
I rehearse the shadowed lessons
of knowing that
the birds flee,
the skies untune,
the earth turns iron—
while believing that we will awake
and awake once more
shielded by the sweet illusions
of our habits.
And, oh yes,
today recurs tomorrow,
love is not loss,
forgetfulness trumps fear.
in the soft beat, beating of my heart
and its tender intimacy,
I hear the sly challenge
to love you even
when I remember
that I might not die first
The dress uniform army jacket
leaps out from a basement storage closet
and dangles from my hand,
swinging back and forth on its hanger,
its dense wool worn smooth
like one of his favorite shirts.
I know that his dandruff and sweat
were dry-cleaned away fifty-five years ago,
and I’m already feeling stupid with the weight of this fiction
when the jacket asks how I remember him.
Maybe your big, confident grin?
Or your physician’s pride and dignity and certainty?
Or missing my soccer games?
Or the burning thrill you induced in me
when you admired my music?
Or you rising in church to accept the appreciation
of the congregation for raising money
and not mentioning my mother
who had done most of the work?
Or tying on a new tippet with slow, contented dexterity?
Or your impatience with my gentle
and hesitant sister?
Or giving me to the mountain for skiing?
Or seated before an easel, your concentration?
Or how you would not discipline your temper
and the violence you permitted yourself
and the very last time you
tried to strike me and when you missed
and I did not move away,
the shift between us?
Or rain pattering on the tarpaper roof
of a shabby camp way up north,
you slouched in a broken-down chair
sipping pretty good scotch neat
and talking about dragging a Royal Coachman
through brown foam?
Or the indistinct years after your stroke as you become
mellow and sensitive
The jacket asks,
“Are you going to choose?”
I was bound by the fear
that without her
my sons and I would drift
That muddled indulgence
would dilute effort.
That dirty socks
would litter the floor.
That stupid risks
would displace judgment.
That nasty food
would become normal.
Counting and recounting our losses
and trying to remember
and not remember
and hold the center,
I declared rules
and enforced disciplines.
I said “no” a lot.
I was determined
and blind and deaf
and I was losing them.
You take my hands and say,
Why this rule or that one?”
And after we all climb Mt. Abe
you want to know what is wrong with ice cream, anyway?
Then I will close the door behind me
with the familiar
flick of my left wrist and,
the latch still missing after thirty years,
elbow the screen door clear.
From the high branches of the trees west of the yard,
an evening sun will send its shadows along the grass
and they will come to rest on the house and bay window
as trembling, gray abstractions.
That day, will I be afraid or sad or relieved
or too tired for questions after all the deciding
and packing and carrying and
Of course, the moment
may be so commonplace
in the course of a life that it snares
You might say that those feelings
run true enough?
I might say that it is about
forgetting and not forgetting,
the silent shapes and surfaces of the house
mute linkages to remembered
or half-remembered moments,
a mnemonic scaffolding.
Remember the evening,
Tim standing at the top of the stairs
dripping and naked as a fish
as he complained to us
and to our guests in the living room
that Stephen was opening the door to the bathroom
in gross violation of his privacy?
Or the spring starling
mistaking the chimney cap for a nesting site,
flailing down the chimney
and shooting into the house,
a sooty rocket?
Driving through the curve
And maybe not.
where the barn and trees
cut off the view of the house,
maybe I will stop and turn off the engine
and walk back.
SONG FOR NORA
It would be a really big understatement to suggest that
addressing a precocious, articulate,
directly about bad behavior
—without advance coordination with her mother and grandmother—
would be a bold move.
On the other hand, we are now looking at 10 treasured vacation days,
family meals pivoting around whiney complaints
aimed at a preternaturally accommodating mother
and a level of basic decorum so atrocious that it must, at some level,
and the entire gathering frozen in surly silence
as mother and daughter conduct a whispered negotiation
over the broccoli florets.
Or whether there are tiny specks on the chicken.
I am worried that I might blurt something out,
causing even more wreckage of the holiday spirit.
So, I decide to plunge straight into remediation on my own,
thereby dodging the dual risks of being deflected by my daughter
(or my wife)
or dragging them into the abyss with me.
I find myself wondering if there is a special pleading for grandfathers
who attempt this sort of thing,
conceding, too, the likelihood of a reserved zone in purgatory.
But the moment for action soon arrives,
and I ask Nora if I might have a private word.
“Sure,” she says brightly, giving me a sideways glance.
We head off to an empty bedroom and sprawl on the bed.
“Right now I am not suggesting or asking,”
I say with a big smile that I hope doesn’t quiver with any doubt.
“I am about to give you direction and expecting you to follow it.”
With iron certainty,
I know that such unconditional instruction is new to Nora.
She is inscrutable.
Eventually I say, “I want to have more fun at meal times.”
Nora rearranges herself on the bed with a bounce,
and I know I have her full attention.
And I have a plan. In fact, I have a six-word plan.
Want to see it?”
I pull a slip of paper out of my pocket
and smooth it on the bedspread.
We lean over it together—
When – you start eating when your mother does.
How – chew with your mouth closed. (I pantomime
this particular offense, and Nora looks on with disgust).
Talk – you participate in the conversation.
Eat Up – you finish what is on your plate.
Help – you help set the table or help clean up.
Excused – you may ask any time after the main course.
“So that’s the plan. Got it?”
“I think so,” she says, somewhat dubiously.
We go over it again, and she agrees to hand-write a copy.
When she finishes, I say:
“After we try this once or twice, we’ll have a follow-up meeting.”
She gives me an oddly adult glance.
“Good. We are starting tonight,” I say.
And we do. Guess what?
Revolutionary changes in behavior come to dinner.
The table vibrates with laughter, delighting relieved adults
and highlighting a smiling, conversational child who asks each person
to describe the best thing that happened that day.
Mother and grandmother are astonished.
Me? I oscillate between grateful relief, reflected pride in Nora
and, to be honest, wonderment.
Two days later Nora and I meet again.
“What do you think?” I ask.
She says, “It’s fun.
At the high point on Adams School Road
a gusty muscle of wind presses into my back,
and I shoot up through the gears.
Exploiting a slight down-grade,
I can pedal full-out in top gear.
Vibrating, twitchy in the speed,
the bike becomes sensitive to
tiny steering inputs and shifts in balance.
The frame, usually so tight and rigid,
flexes with the stress of gyroscopic forces.
An uneasy voice in the back of my mind
inventories the nuts and bolts, fittings
and odd bits and pieces
that, at this moment, need to hold together.
Tall grass in the open fields
bends low in the wind,
then is again pressed down in abrupt cascades
battered by the galloping air.
the trees, too, are leaning,
surrendering as if pointing down the road,
leaves flipped onto their backs becoming
flecks of light that speckle the shadows.
Fluffy seed pods from the poplars in the hedgerow
flounce along the road.
Aligning at speed with this flowing, invisible power
somehow alters and bends the sound,
which becomes delicate, discrete, personal.
An improbable, impossible stillness closes around me.
I can hear my breaths, in and out.
air working through the vegetation beside the road
is clear and distinct as bird song.
The metallic clicks and rattles of the chain and derailleur
blend with the guttural scratch of tires on the pavement
and the hiss of the spokes slicing around,
sounds ordinarily overwhelmed by a noisy head-wind
tugging at the bike and ventilation slits of my helmet.
If I felt like humming, I could hear that too.
My eyes stop watering,
and sweat drips straight down onto the cross-bar.
and imagine that I’m a pace-vehicle for some activated
force of nature,
or a fictional character frolicking in a magic bubble,
or an actor in a silent, soundless movie,
or an alien visitor encased in a transparent lozenge.
But I know.
I know that a corner
transforms a trailing wind
into an opposing force.
Not to make too much of it,
but the purpose or maybe fate of biking
is not to ride only downwind and downhill,
truisms confirmed once again as I turn left
onto Quaker Road,
back towards home.