Meditation on the Death  (by Cirrhosis)  of an Eldest Son

          appeared in Potpourri, spring 1994

What would you do, if,
born female in high backward hills,
married young to a man whose only interest
was money and its making,
you knew there must be more,
more than work, more to talk of
than tobacco, taxes, and Jesus?
What would you do, if,
old at 23, feeling emptied
of all but more babies,
you opened an ancient atlas
and found yourself seduced
by geography and colored maps?
Our first son
was my saving.
The anxious day in his fifth year
he wandered away, lost for hours,
I made him my saving.
When I knew he'd survived
snakes and half-wild hogs,
when his father's frightened rage had passed,
I rocked him on the porch,
held him tight and
as night closed,
he told me what he'd seen:
silvered minnows and a dark creek,
followed to distant fields;
where he hid to watch
his father's sweaty labor
in mid-day heat,
while fat groundhogs
crept from hillside crevices.
I rocked till he slept,
a limp, warm weight in my arms,
thought of his small body
crouched in high weeds
and watching strange business,
saw, as he had,
mystery in a muddy creek.
He was lost for years after that,
lost and wandering, seeing and doing.
When he came occasionally home,
whiskey-breath'd, with women
whose eyes turned always
to floors or far corners,
his father left us
as we traced his travels
with the book.
He never mentioned whiskey;
I never mentioned the women.
But he told me
how desert bloomed an Eden
the Arizona summer
he saw one rare July rain,
what a Dakota blizzard does
to someone riding a fast freight,
gave me Amarillo, San Francisco,
Denver, Boston,; Minnesota.
Bringing home the pieces
of that lonely wandering
dear God he was my saving.
photo: Grandma Martt with Elmer

This is the source of the short story Finding the Gate.  After writing the above, I showed it to Neil Myers, one of my old poetry professors, who over the years had turned into the respected mentor I'd visit during rare trips through West Lafayette, IN.  When he hinted it'd work better as a short story, it became  "Finding the Gate."  But I always liked this variation better, and was pleased when it was accepted for publication.

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