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The quintessential American experience

Two adults, two kids

A car, a tent

The open road in summer.

 

Re-creating the vacations of our youth

My spouse and I take our children

Into the expanse of the West.

 

Unlike some friends,

We have qualms about sending our children forth

To grandparents, to camps, away,

For weeks, months, at a time.

Instead, here we are,

In the bubbles of our own creating–

The tent and the car surrounding,

Protecting,

Entrapping us.

 

What is being learned?

Who are the teachers?

Who the students?

 

Growing,

Exploring,

Conquering fears together.

 

The elder and I climb a dangling ladder in the Badlands

Temporarily suspending ourselves and our fear of heights.

The younger marvels at every creature,

sunset, flower,

And we see the marvelous landscape anew.

We climb and relive past ways,

Candlelight in a deep cave

doused to make us face what we cannot see

and see what we hesitate to face.

The relics of the past,

Animal, human,

All made this trek,

pushing themselves to these places.

In the snowy mountains,

we encounter our physical limitations,

while agape at the glory around us.

All peoples imagine their gods in the heights

and we too feel as if we have met mysteries.

 

Somehow, the problems we encounter—

storms, sibling fights, timing, tempers—

all pale in the memory.

Instead, we are left with connections,

built on gossamer threads of experiences shared.

Glad to be home,

Joyful in the knowledge

That we can be more than we often are,

That together we are more than individuals.

Family.

(c)Lydia A. Schultz 2009

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I wrote this poem a number of years after my father died.  I was teaching at a univerity a 45 minute, rural drive away, and spent a great deal of time in my car. 

********************************************
Legacies

I

I drive like my father.
I never really noticed before
But during my long commute
On the open interstate
I can now see.

My left knee bent, 90 degrees,
Supports my left hand –
Back on the knee,
Fingers curled round the wheel –
My right hand occasionally lends support
But usually rests, gently,
On my right thigh.

The realization shocks me,
Driving into the sun
On the anniversary of his death.
Another brilliant October day.

His legacy revolves around cars.
When the phone call came,
I was painting the new garage.
That cool October day,
Leaves surrounded my feet.
My purple sweatshirt was streaked with
The signs of my marginal competence.
Inside the phone machine blinked,
And I heard my mother’s voice
Apologizing
For telling me of his death
By these mechanical means –
Of the unexpected stalling
Of a life I had never been without.

II

Autumn had always been my favorite.
New plaid skirts and knee socks,
Sharp pencils and smooth paper –
Did I become a teacher from that love?
He calmed my annual fears,
Assuring me that I would do just fine.
The glory of the trees would
Line our river valley
Masking the industrial ruin
In a riot of color.
We’d watch the World Series together,
Especially if the Pirates played.
Baseball linked us
Across our age and gender.

After that call I cried for my loss,
But also for my little boy’s.
He’d never know my gruff, burly dad.
He wouldn’t remember him at all.
So we watch the World Series together,
My son and I.
And every time I look at him,
I see my dad.

The cemetery is an isolated island
On a deer trail
In a sea of corn.
At his funeral,
Yellow leaves floated
In the breeze.

III

I came to dread October.
T.S. Eliot was wrong, I thought.
So many people died in October –
Autumn was cruel, indifferent,
Killing off parents
As if they were no more than the leaves
That could return in spring.
Yet my father’s memory and spirit
Return mysteriously.

The first time that I parked my car
In that coveted, close spot
At the crowded mall lot,
I thought it chance.
But then it happened again
And again. And again.
Everywhere I went.
Then I knew.
He’d given me his special gift –
His luck at finding
The perfect spot.
So when it happens –
Every time –
I whisper “Thanks, Dad.”

IV

Can the patterns arise?
Move and shift?

After my car pulls into the lot,
I emerge to hear the sound –
Familiar, yet barely –
At the edges of recognition.
The sensations wrap about me –
The chill dense breeze,
Trees dancing to music of their own making,
Brown leaves playing tag –
All part of the acrid tang
Of ripeness and decay.

My head tilts upward,
As if of its own accord.
The darkness of inverted Vs
Perforate the cool blue
Gradually, consistently, persistently
Moving, shifting,
To become the southbound giant.

The geese honk.
I accept the complexities of autumn.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz