March 17th


Walt wore green trousers to school today,

a little tattered and short but baggy enough

to get by, his ankles sharp wings above

his shoes, Hermes delivering his little

sister to kindergarten. She's in a green cardigan

over green t-shirt; she hates to be pinched.

She isn't sure her classmates will eat

the guacamole we made this morning

for Green Tasting Day, and Amber, of course,

is bringing green popcorn. I mention snakes

and pagans, an island as green as the Hulk,

but they look at me as if my hair is on fire,

a peat fire in late winter, a cache of flames above

my ears. When St. Patrick left home a slave,

a stolen child in the service of thieves, the fairies

discerned a narrow faith and let him be,

let him labor and escape. If only leprechauns

possessed a missionary instinct. If only

they'd kept him in a bower counting shades

of green. If seen now in these days of Falwell

and Robertson, if found beneath a garden stone

or taking shelter in the heather, the little

people are menacing and mean, as apt

to boil a child as enchant him. Driven

underground by Patrick's return, they await

a different rapture, or the same one differently,

happy enough with an eternity bound over

to the earth, the smear of chlorophyll on their

cheeks as they walk among the heathens,

who believe what they see and little else.

The fairies require no one's belief.

The leprechauns play tricks on the damned

or the saved. Patrick taught the Trinity

by counting the leaves on a shamrock, how

three things could be as one, then handing it

to a druid to hold, to consider. So when,

after school, Phoebe announces that, yes,

everyone loved the guacamole, and Walt

hands out his paper shamrocks inscribed

with messages, I think of spring, three days

away, which this year falls on Palm Sunday,

the day Walt was born eight years ago.

Did a nurse give me the small cross of bent

fronds or did I find it under his pillow,

right next to a four-leaf clover, a gift from

an uncle who has never believed, though he took

the time to search in his yard for a present.

Faith and luck: one found everywhere,

the other as rare as air at the bottom of the sea.

Both are in his baby book, right next

to a footprint and a bracelet that reads

Baby Boy Harms. Right now he wants

to eat the green cupcake his teacher gave him

before the final bell. Phoebe is

looking out the window counting clouds

aloud in Spanish, which means there

can only be ten. Ten clouds in the sky,

though from where I sit, there are hundreds.

We Started Home, My Son and I

after Jaan Kaplinski

We started home, my son and I.

Evening beginning. The small stains

of streetlight spreading across the sidewalk,

thinning to darkness every few yards.

My son paused at the edge of each

then leapt, one hand in mine,

to the next. Ahead, his mother

touched the meat twice before

turning it, rinsed the lettuce, called out

for his sister to wash her hands.

He said each spot of light

was a great land, each span

of darkness the sea. And we

followed his map home

out past the edge of town where night

filled the long blocks between

streetlights with oceans.

We rowed when we could, swam

the last few miles. Until the moon

reared up like an old man

startled from his nap. And once

again the roads of the world rose

beneath us. Before long, my son

and I were home. I watched him climb

the brick stairs to the front door,

whose key I no longer owned.

His mother waved as he fell

into the house, the bright rooms

splashed with light. The ottoman

covered with horsehair; a damask

draped over the sofa: I couldn't see

these or any other emblems of my

previous life. I felt the waters rise

around my feet, heard in the distance

the loose rigging in the wind, a buoy bell.

So far from the sea, I rolled up

my trousers, wading in

for the walk back.



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