It being her job,
she made her son put on his scarf
under his winter coat before he sent himself
to his job,
into the March wind
to a sky filled with quickly moving gray-black clouds,
to fly his kite,
to this time make it stay up.
He believed he would someday tame the wind
and make it stay up.
She held the kitchen storm door,
itself almost a kite in her hand,
as he maneuvered his diamond-shaped Hi-Flier
with “Playmate of the Clouds” printed across it,
onto their acre of wind,
where he held it aloft in one hand,
let out some string,
ran, and let go,
let out more string and more string
The kite climbed the wind like a stampeding steer
held fast by a bit of string in its nose.
It dipped left and right and rose fast and fell,
wild as the scudding clouds behind it,
then plummeted and crashed,
as if wrestled from the sky by the wind itself.
More tail! she thought,
standing with her fingers to her lips,
watching from the picture window.
Quickly she tore one of her good rags into tail.
rags in one hand, storm door in the other,
she called to him,
“It needs more tail!—it needs more tail!”
He came to the door
and held it up to her, his “Playmate of the Clouds.”
She tied more tail,
twice as long as he was tall.
He took his diamond tissue paper kite
back to their acre of wind.
It flew rough,
but it flew and didn’t crash.
Five or so minutes passed before
the mother heard from Mrs. Grobarek,
who watched next door from her own picture window
the gray-black sky
with fingers to her lips.
She called to warn that a tornado watch was on,
so said the radio.
The mother imagined
how her “pumpkin” of nine years
might become a “Hi-Flier” himself,
clutching the string as the bull charges away—
away, away, away—
growing smaller and smaller in her eyes.
She called to him.
She called him in,
“Enough for today. You made it fly. You made it fly!”
though he knew better.
Called him in for a snack
in the kitchen,
the two of them soon to be cozy at their table
by the picture window filled with seething clouds.
Called him in for his favorite brand of tea,
Red Rose, with lots of milk and sugar,
and his much-loved cookies,
shaped like a windmill.
On the Other Hand,
There was the woods with all its trees, some sacred,
Some not so sacred.
The not-so-sacred ones we’d climb,
And build forts in,
with scavenged boards and bent nails
Made straight by hammering them out after we’d pulled
Them out of the boards.
High up we’d sway, and feel that sway,
Then swing out on a rope donated to our enterprises
By a very unenterprising father,
who belonged to one of us,
And thus belonged to all of us in some ineffable way.
Our sacred trees
Were not unlike our father,
even as they skyscrapered above,
Too great of girth and tall of stature to ever be climbed.
We named the highest tree Big Ben,
and once held hands
Around it to measure its girth.
Like all godish things,
It had nothing to say,
though we felt beneath its bark a fire:
on the other hand,
in the woods.
For Alva on His 103rd
I was reading Hongzhi this morning, Pop. The monk
Puqung relates in his preface how his Master
“made vast and empty
the bright mirror
and saw through it.”
So, on your 103rd birthday, I imagine you once again
alive, before the mirror that hung above the hearth
in the living room of 1965, hung like a giant window
to look into and see ourselves.
You tie your tie, brown
and blue stripes to match your chocolate pinstriped suit.
It’s Sunday in an August lost to us both, and you’ll
be off to “sit on a house” in your subdivision full
of empty houses, and you dearly hope to sell one,
About six inches taller than you, a fact you never
let me forget, I move into the great mirror to watch
you. Your cuff links all but flash as you tie loops
into a full Windsor knot. Then you don your jacket,
with a little hanky protruding from its breast pocket,
right over your heart.
I also imagine that had you breathed
these 30 years you’ve been gone, the stable state
of estrangement we had attained would have continued—
But no, no.
Certainly we would have made vast and empty
the polished mirror. Empty of desires to thwart each other.
Empty of our cherished selves, really.
Thus, we would’ve seen,
really, through the mirror to our true selves:
you so handsome
in your chocolate suit; I so innocently tall, as your father
was tall; you and I, who looked so alike back when.
So, for your birthday I envision us as an article of faith:
Dear father in heaven, we would have seen through it.
Patric Pepper has published three poetry chapbooks, and a full-length book, Temporary Apprehensions, which was a winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Prize. He is founder, with his wife, the poet Mary Ann Larkin, of Pond Road Press, which has published 11 poetry chapbooks and full-length books since 2006. His work has appeared most recently in, or is forthcoming from, Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Northern Virginia Review, Okay Donkey Magazine, Poetry X Hunger, and The Sunlight Press. Pepper lives in Washington, D.C.