How I've Always Been Close to my Parents
In the apartment next door they're making
love. I wasn't born yesterday—I know
what I hear, even if it's through a wall.
They moan and groan, are keeping me up, but
I lie on my back, gaze at the ceiling
through those bright little specks the eyes pick out
of the dark such that darkness must have light
—and catch myself thinking of my parents.
Somehow, when they made love, I was there, too,
waiting, or in spirit, in the future,
as if they were making love to make me.
And yet I doubt that I was on their minds
though there was something of their bodies then
of which I was no small part, and am, and
they of me, even though they've both passed out
of the living. The couple next door have
brought them back to me. No one's built a wall
yet that can seal off memory. Suppose
I rise and dress—what time is it?—at two
in the morning, descend my fire escape
and climb theirs, knock on their back door and say,
Excuse me, but it's late—I mean, early
—and I need my sleep so would you please keep
it down? She might stand there looking pretty
angry at being interrupted; or
he'll be there in his boxers (on backwards)
to say, What the Hell do you want this time
of night? I'll do a double-take because
he'll be Dad and she'll be Mom so the next
thing I'll say will be babyish prattle:
Dad-dy? Mom-my? and then, Godamighty,
is it really you? Don't you recognize
me? No, of course you don't—I'm not born yet.
Then he'll probably punch me in the nose
or she'll scream and turn around and tell him,
Baby, call the cops—this fucker's crazy,
and then slam the door. I'll start kicking and
trying to break down the door, and crying, No,
wait, I don't want to lose you all again.
O, please open the door and let me in.
He does, and with a pistol in one hand
and a kitchen knife in the other. Man,
he'll say, if you don't get the Hell away
I'm gonna kill you dead. But, Dad, I'll say,
I'm your little son. The gleam in your eye
—or the consequence, at least. Then he pulls
the trigger but it's his blood on my chest.
Just before I die I see him staring
at me as if I've finally come to him
—he knows who I am. As I lie dying
he cradles my head in his hands and murmurs
Forgive me, my boy—O, what have I done?
I reach up (melodramatically)
and touch his cheek and say, Better me than
you. Say so long to Mother for me. I
expire. Instead of waking up in Hell
or Heaven, I find myself in my bed,
again studying the ceiling. Then we
share one last gasp and all's quiet next door,
so I can roll over and go to sleep.
But suddenly I feel very lonely.
I want to go next door and wake them up
and say, C'mon, you're young: do it again.
I've got my dog on the edge of the bed
and the Justice League of America
in my hands. It is heaven to be young
but I don't know that yet, and won't until
being young is as far in the past as
the moon from the earth. Still, men have flown there,
circled, and even walked the surface, if
in spacesuit because they were alien.
I'm pushing fifty-two. My body's slow
but somehow I'm still ten years old, and
that's immortality—meaning, not
foresight. Hanging on the top of my drapes
are my two kites, one with Pegasus fly
-ing across it, the other a dragon,
red, on a yellow background. We fly them,
Caesar, my dog, and I, when I come home
after school. I get my homework out of
the way first—a few math problems, then on
to history, and last of all, science.
Then a snack and we return to the sun
I let my kite string out
—I should say that the wind moves the kite and
unwinds it at will, but I hold flight back.
The farther it goes
the longer it takes
to reel it in again. How far today?
I watch Pegasus soar above the church.
I pull on the string, down to my feet,
and raise him that way so he won't tangle
on the spire. Whew. That was close. Praise God
and the sun—in science we learn it makes
the wind, I forget how, but at least
we can measure it. God's another thing
—no one knows God.
That's why we go to church,
I guess, for every hint we can get. I
pull in Pegasus, my hand winding him
close with every revolution.
When he's near enough I grab his halter.
Still he wants to run free. If the wind's fair
I can't break him. Some afternoons the wind's
so dead that birds don't bother to fly.
I do what beginners do—run with him,
leading him into the wind I make by
trotting and trotting. That gives him lift, but
when I stop to catch my breath he totters
and falls. Caesar stands beside him, looking
at me, then at him, and then at me
again. Nuts, I say. There's no wind today,
boy. Let's go inside. We do. Up the stairs,
Caesar's quicker, leaping ahead, but then
he has twice as many legs. At the top
he grins down at me. I'm just halfway up.
Sorry, boy, I say. I'm coming. One more
step and he's in my room, on the bed, on
the blanket at the end, which is his place.
I pet him, then hang Pegasus back up.
Tomorrow the dragon, I say. Caesar
lies on his side, his eyes already closed.
Poor mutt, I say. I scratch behind his ears.
He likes that. He can't reach to scratch himself
there. Supper will be ready soon. Mother will
call us. I'll feed Caesar, then myself.
After supper I'll throw him some apples
that have fallen from the tree. He'll chase them
and gnaw them to pulp. I'll throw a few more.
He bounces like a kite in a crosswind
trying to flag them down. When he's tired we
go back into the house. Time for a snack.
Some ice-cream, maybe.
I'll eat it and give
him the bowl to lick. We go upstairs, but
first I have to kiss Mother goodnight and
shake my father's hand. Goodnight, Sir, I say.
Goodnight, boy, he says. We're tired so we go
to our room. Caesar takes his place and I
put on my pajamas and read comic
books. Batman and Robin battle jewel thieves.
I read aloud—it helps Caesar sleep. I
can't get to the end before I'm sleeping,
too. In my dream I'm the picture on my
kite. I'm four-hundred feet high and looking
down. I can't fall—the wind's in my face—but
the line might snap and I'll go tumbling and
twisting and turning, until I land
in a tree or on a roof. Pegasus
is at the other end—he's letting out
all the string, and on his back is Caesar.
There's a good view from up here. I can see
the cross on top of the Methodist church.
It looks like a cross at the head of a grave
of some dead person who has no slab and
no name. Our house looks like a headstone. I
wake and say to Caesar, I had a dream,
but he doesn't hear me. I don't either
—wind in my ears, I guess, and the altitude.