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Grotto

“It’s gonna happen.”
    ~ “Fake Dad” from The Ren & Stimpy Show, second season (uncut) (1993)

Sometimes when I’m weary of jaunting about the neighborhood
And the bike and the skateboard feel outworn
Neglected in the corner
On one of these empty endless silent weekends or even emptier endless summers
I turn uphill to face the two lanes
Wait for them to clear and dash across
Down the other side through the vacant schoolyard
To the boweried sidewalk heading further down behind it
On down into the woods
The treelined brook
Above which the nature trail emerges
Follow the water’s faintly noisy meanders first with the trail
Then without it
As the trail ventures up a flight of stairs recently etched into the heightening slope
And follows the bluff’s rising edge above
While I proceed below into shadows
Following a path made only by water now
Where the real nature is
Living lichen-encrusted stones
Tadpoles and crane flies and the occasional turtle
Newts pillbugs annelids and larvae of all sorts
Nestled amid fronds and friendly wild grasses
That have never been mowed fertilized chemically treated mulched tilled ripped out
Perhaps never known to prior human contact
Tended by Nature
I’m one with them
Here where nobody sees

Sometimes when I come down here carrying the grappling hook I’ve fashioned
Strong long rope with metal talons I can swing round and round
Till almost of its own accord it whooshes high overhead to catch itself
Amid tree roots hanging aloft
From below the bluff’s edge
The reassuring stretch of these weaves invites me
To climb all afternoon
The slope down which once
At first unexpected encounter
I all but plummeted to my death
And why should I have minded
I could’ve merrily stayed here in this brook forever
But something held me back that first late afternoon
I can’t say what
A wild grasp that miraculously found the tree roots that today again hold me
Suspended on the face of this rocky wall
No one knows about this place
Where I strain and dangle digging with my feet against stone and loose patches of soil
Where I reach the top to gaze out over this wild dank paradise
Where I clamber back down with my hook still clenching live flesh of ancient wild beings
Who tower above all proceedings of all wild things amid and beneath them
No one knows about this wild spirit
That’s now in me
That is me
But what would they ever know
I’m just this misfit weirdo loner kid from out of state
Sick of trying to fit in
No one knows about this grappling hook
Which I leave hidden in a special place as I tool about the brook
After tiring from the climb
I hoist myself back up onto the valley floor leaving behind soft watercourse noises
Opposite the cliff now
Wild spirit too tucked safely out of sight
Once more

Sometimes when I gaze out the classroom window
At the fascinating contingent of intersteller travelers
Gathering out on the worn playground
Their friendly spacecraft gleaming in the endless weight
Of the sunlight that drops with ennui upon this deadened building
The teacher draws me back into the room with a stern reminder
That the time’s come for my session with Mrs. M
Who’s made her regular round to gather the learning-disabled children like me
No one knows about the alien visitors
Not Mrs. M
Who’s yet to learn about such futuristic labeling as ADHD
Wouldn’t know the difference between a borderline aspie
And a snake in the perimeter grass
Yet anyway regards boredom by uninspiring class material as a disorder
Whose time is occupied with the kids who can’t read
Not the other spelling bee finalists this year
Whose attention spans are no greater than mine
Though their attention may seldom be taken by offworlders like me
Not the people I live with
Biological parents to whom I’m grateful
For the food clothing shelter lessons and books
Lovely books that no one in the classroom I’ve just left behind would care to tackle
LD or not
Lessons that I master out of due respect
And because I like learning about this odd world
Allegedly enabled for just that by Mrs. M
Who’s black
Like the others in this LD group knowing
It’s been awhile since women and blacks were dished out credit lines
Seduced to everlasting debt
What can they do for each other but bitch
While this honkey boy might as well stare out the window
Dreaming worlds
What do I owe
While no human touch
No pat on the back now and then
No more learning than to crave the barbershop or salon for the simple human contact they offer
No alternative form but a paddling
No better than indirect contact through chunk of tree flesh
No she’s never said the words
I love you
I guess never will
While he never says a word
Borderline of any real meaning
At all

Sometimes when I walk the dirt track that meets the brook downstream
To run along its other side
Toward expensive neighborhoods reachable by foot
Or friendly places that may exist only in my imagination
Sweaty after my climb
I weave along
Smiling in wonder at the people who must’ve passed this way
So close to all this wild beauty yet so far
Not noticing any of it
Not noticing me
Not until one afternoon from out of nowhere
One of those mean ol’ big kids saunters by
Grins at me with crooked teeth and speaks
“Wanna toke?”
I stand parsing his question
Thinking there might be a sensible response
If only I knew it
Shall I thank him for his ridiculous invitation
Why ask a young kid like me to share his substance addiction
Or run in fear that he’ll force me into it
Here where nobody sees or hears
Or agree to participate in the miserable life
Out of which comes his miserable suggestion
In this miserable place
This miserable jeep trail
This whole miserable state in which I outwardly live unwillingly
Inwardly not at all
Not at all like where I’m from
Where I truly live
Where nothing like this would ever have happened
They don’t even know how to speak here
Mouths might as well always be full of cornbread mush
Or tobacco
Even the kids
Who cares
He can do nothing
What can a nothing do besides nothing
There’s nothing at all
Besides the grotto at my back
Those trees along the bluff whose crowns soar far above
Whose very presence steadfastly supports me
I can’t fall

Thanks always returns

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