Sunday, August 15, 2010

83. Aqualane

An early 1960s aqua
Ford Fairlane passed
me today as I was
driving, and suddenly
all I could think of was

its cousin, that light-
blue Plymouth Valiant
my family took across
the Atlantic with us to
Portugal, so that we

could remember its
graceful fins, how they
threatened to take out
our eyes, to leave us
blind in a foreign

country and only a few
blocks up from that
same Atlantic we were
borne across on the SS
Constitution, a dreary

trip, the sky filled with
grey, and my family
forced into safety drills
in case the ship capsized
and we with it, and we

were already a big family,
four children, with two to
come, and two parents,
living more as a troupe
than a family, so much so

that we lived for months
in the Hotel Tuela, eating
seafood and dessert every
day until we finally moved
to that house just up from

the grey Atlantic bordered
with dark and giant rocks
at this particular part of
the coast, and these rocks
covered with scores of tiny

skittering crabs I had to
work hard to catch, though
starfish were easier, and
I kept a small box of ocean
in my house and carefully

watched its inhabitants
die, much as I did with
the insects I caught and
kept in jars, even though
I’d never meant them any

harm, harm them I did,
and that might have been
a lesson for me, except
that I went to a German
school, and I had lessons

enough trying to learn
two languages at once,
but there was some fun
in the process, and today
I was on our third floor

and saw one of the results
of my time at the Deutsche
Schule zu Porto, a beautiful
handpuppet clown my parents
made for me, my father

carving the wooden hands
and shoes, my mother
creating the tailored
articles of clothing, and I
forming the misshapen

head out of pink tissue
paper and glue, and giving
also my blond hair to stick
out from under his pointed
cap, so that he will always

be me, even after I am no
longer that boy myself, and
when I saw that hair I had
to touch it, so that I was
touching the past, that boy

still alive somewhere, and
I have always liked children
and have usually been able
to manage them, because I
was the eldest of six, making

me a third parent, a manager
of children, which I seemed
prepared for, so that when my
children came, unexpected
always, into the world, I was

ready for them, and thought
of them not simply as the
children they were, these
bundles of living breath, but
also as signs of my own

necessary productivity, because
I’ve always needed to make
something, as a means of
proving my worth, and would
seem empty without it, which

is really a poor point of view
for a father to have, but I am
also more than a father, for I am
a grandson of my grandfather’s
Louisiana, a child of my mother’s

California, an immigrant into
this world from a place of the
imagination against the greatest
odds of possibility, and making
makes me, and gives me some

purchase against the great
blackness I came from, making
is a way to live in the sunlight,
where things are warm, where
we learn to live our lives well,

no matter what we make of
them, where we learn to be
and spend time with humans,
where we have the chance,
sometimes, to have an aqua

Ford Fairlane, from the early
1960s, when I was the youngest
of children, pass us in that same
sunlight, and remind us that
there is this past we carry always

with us, like the tiny plastic
cage I kept my pet cricket within,
mimicking Portuguese culture
and forcing little leaves of lettuce
through the bars so that he might

eat and stay happy, and sing to us
every night, which is what he did,
even if maybe he was looking for
some other life and he sang only
because that’s the life he had to sing.

No comments:

Post a Comment