I have exactly three cardboard boxes that smell of musty rental storage, inexorably decaying at each corner-point of integrity from the old paper mill acids now outlawed, along with a third of everything else known to man, in the State of California. I’m Texan, through and through, so the California State Legislature is an easy, if not entirely misjudged and misappropriated, tongue-in-cheek whipping boy. In any case, these boxes won’t hold water…vapor. But they do keep together the stuffings of my adolescent life, including an adjustable pair of sidewalk skates clearly composed of non-ferrous Area 51 metal. I rusted before they did. Ain’t life wicked?
The pledge I made to myself in deciding to share the following piece is simply that I wouldn’t change anything. After all, there’s little use in rose-coloring the past (‘bedazzling’ is one of the modern terms now, per my outspokenly chic and forward-thinking daughters). Whatever and pshaw. Tomorrow may be worth the utility of fine china, but I just can’t suffer expensive pigment on the repainting of yesteryear. Besides, it was already beautiful, washed out in a copper-tinged patina. Those memories are well worth the free admission; I, for one, would pay a thousand-times-nothing to see the tape run again. Cheap, you say? A little, coming from a guy who hid in the trunk of a backseat-accessible Corolla in the last twilight of drive-in movies and windowglass-hung corded speakers. I’d testify in any court, though, to vouch they are remembrances for which gold bullion couldn’t afford the rights. Those nick-knacks are mine. And I’ll line them up on storied shelves, happy to have them on display, each hash-marking the corkscrewed timeline of my life.
On to the poem. I remember why I wrote it, for whom I wrote it and where I wrote it. In pencil on standard-rule, blue-lined notebook paper with the upper-right corner of the page neatly torn away. It’s otherworldly to believe this poem, others like it or anything else in those boxes including the very first shadows of my heart have, against the incredibly jagged obstacle of time, somehow remained in my possession. Perhaps as profound, there’s a very good chance the person who inspired it will read it here for the very first time. Craziness all around. Nevertheless, the poem’s not going to be lauded by even the neatly groomed poodle of any literary leviathan. It’s youthful; fairly well practiced but glowingly green. But, then, the point is not its appraisal; rather, to acknowledge that it exists and that, to this day, it whispers with undead importance. It’s a stake in the ground, a metaphorical marker near the genesis of what I long ago began to believe: words matter, ideas matter, what we feel and have to say matters, that our hearts—however honest, ill-communicated or hung unknown—wield an immeasurable, irrepressible power. And it’s a once-made pen unto limitless passion that each of us, as uniquely authorized authors, can pick up and push across the page. So intimately connected and symbiotic are that inner voice and the written word that we should come shoulder-to-shoulder with shame in remaining silent or insecure. We owe the greater purpose of ourselves so much more than we tend to pay it…
Say, if our words were trap doors,
We would talk of long falls and broken bones,
You and I;
Yours would be perceived as polished floors,
And I would mind my step;
I’d hide mine in grassy moors,
And you would keep to a hop atop fieldstones.
And if our eyes were telltales,
We might see only the tragedies,
You and I;
Yours would stab like driven nails,
And I would wince away;
Mine would crush as chain-slung flails,
And you would shrink behind your felonies.
Too, if our hands were signposts,
We would fastly find that we hold different maps,
You and I;
Yours would fix upon the furthest coasts,
And I would have to stay behind;
Mine would tend the inland most,
And you would accept the unwanted gaps.
But if our hearts were wildcards,
Why not push in on a gamble double-to-none,
You and I?
You might lay down two spaded bards,
And I would raise you once;
I would display three diamond guards,
And you’d fold in favor that we were finally won.