On Being Five Minutes Late for the First Day of Kindergarten
and the cow jumped over the moon…
Tomato soup done, I lay down my spoon,
slid closer to my mother in the breakfast nook.
She read on, pausing only to light
her after-lunch, unfiltered cigarette.
I basked beside her raven-haired beauty.
Father, as always, was off to the city,
his war-torn Army boots still upright in the shed,
and baby sister, as always, put down for a nap.
The way lay clear to my mother’s lap.
Which is the way to London town?
That was the day an autumnal tone
crept into her sing-song Mother Goose.
Her green eyes rested on a page she held open
where a white path touched the blue horizon.
One white cloud drifts north.
One daffodil nods in a thin breeze.
One dank hole. A modest knot of people.
Someone’s last word trails off.
The guillotine of silence drops
for a robin’s sweet liquid carol.
A spade, brought from home.
A mound of dirt beside the hole.
A hard jab of spade digs into dirt.
A damp, heavy mound withdrawn, balanced
by an agreeable strain on back and arms.
The familiar feeling of honest labor.
The robin’s sweet liquid carol.
The slow pivot to the dank hole.
Elbows, arms retract — jerk forward.
Dirt rains into the hole.
The sound when it strikes your father’s coffin.
A sound you’d never known.
Your mother let go of your hand.
And so your meager shadow walked the gravel path all on its own to the sunlit playground of shouts and laughter. A silver gum wrapper, a fresh apple core pointed the way.
Teacher was there herding everyone like field mice inside. You followed.
Desks arranged in uniform rows waited. When her sweet young mouth sang out the names on a clipboard bantam hands shot up.
Came your name. She called it twice — your virgin name. A lunar silence frosted the air.
Teacher’s lighthouse glare swept the room. The third time she raised her voice. Came a hard tug on the invisible yoke tied to your name.
The big round wall clock ticked.
And you raised your hand. You raised your fucking hand.
I heard a snatch of an old song last night as I walked beneath the stars past an old, swaybacked cottage with an open window.
The child in my heart bid me to stop.
I saw an old couple around a candle-lit table in the dark, singing softly as a moth at rest moves its wings, some kind of old hymn. His voice was rich and deep; hers, a rusted, soft soprano. “Over there, beyond the river, is the sun,” they sang. I did not know the hymn. “It is always May, over there.”
Rembrandt faces. Carved out of time. They sang unaware of my presence out in the dark. Side-by-side, close to the candle, their breaths flickered the flame.
They seemed unaware, even, of God’s absence.
The child in my heart said, time to move on, let them be. I took a last glance back; they still sang, their faces flaring in the candlelight with the phosphorescent gleam of certain precious things before they disappear.
I wondered, between them, what they had found.