My son drew Mark Goomishian in 5-minute speed chess at the Wartime Café.
My son has his opening seven moves rehearsed. Or, it’s the cupcake. Afterwards, it’s intuitive. Hang a demo board in the living room with the San Francisco Chronicle’s daily puzzle, and let him come to the solution whenever he wants. The process is uncanny. He sees threats from three moves ahead. Give him a year, and maybe he will see the combinations assembling eight moves ahead. Last night we read the bedtime story about en passant for the fifth time. I tucked the blankets with the escaped juices of a Cyalume glow stick, he bent too far, his Rawlings glove on the bedpost above him, and I am reminded of Cuban poet, Roberto Manzano’s “Nocturno” (2009):
Ahora bajo un cielo lejanísimo
oigo voces y luces atravesar las puertas de la noche
y es un niño pequeño lo que miro: desde lejos sus ojos
me miran tristemente:
quién eres, niño? Yo soy tú, dice,
recogiéndose lento hacia lo olvidado,
imagen demolida que tan solo abandona cuando parte,
una minima estrella.
Under a far-off sky now
I hear voices and lights cross the night’s doorways,
and I am watching a small child: his distant eyes
look at me sadly:
who are you, child? I am you, he says,
slowly withdrawing toward oblivion
broken image that retreats only
when a tiny star sets out.
He slept speckled. A luminous leopard gecko.
Indra of the three eyes. The tattoo has an uncanny resemblance. That word again. My son looks like me, people say. I like the reassurance (of simulacra). Unfinished Indra is palimpsest. Beneath, a grim reaper mediating two opposing dragons, originally from Skin Deep (Honolulu), where Kuhio and Kalakaua triangulates as drunk sailors stumbled in at 10pm. Reduplicated reptiles instead of balance, like buwayas without purpose beyond territorial disputes in shifting sand. Self-annihilation and not emergence. I’d need a tiger; someone with paws on solid ground, not necessarily feet, hooves, or boots. The dragons were gravid, for something new other than themselves. Parthogenesis is a father pitching, a son swinging his first red aluminum baseball bat. There’s connection even in the wind. I field his questions because he has uncanny movement throwing the four-seam fastball.
My dad has tattoos. Obviously an anchor. And the U.S.N. painfully bleeding a phlegmatic jade. He is far from the picture on PB’s right side: braided redheaded ragdoll sailor with button eyes, not the picture of pain, when put to the test.
I think about my father a lot these days. I have been writing a series of ubiquitous stories, locating his history of absence, wondering at what point in my son’s life, I will tell him about his other grandfather. If his grandfather would leave the archipelago, visit the States again, perhaps check on the fortune of my half-sister, one of four other siblings, appear in Salinas where there are hundreds of Labradors, and maybe I will introduce them.
Would that be a crash course in dendrochronology? Would he pucker to chocolate meat as I did and still do? Would he demonstrate his knowledge of Pilipino food, speak to them in Tagalog, as his grandmother taught him, in more words than I know? Would my father see his image or my mother’s? Would he hold him and not let go, time the passage lost between them? Would he share a story from the old country?
So what is my little boy made of, if not his paternal grandfather, retired to a pastel blue house, the interiority, pink, an altar of whiskey bottles collecting dust, where outside in the backyard, 30 years ago, I watched a wayward fruit bat, netted from the corner of the dining room during a storm that knocked out all the lights, burned in his own pyre. Fear can lead to so much destruction just to consume a small life.
Last March, Taeo met Harryette Mullen at the “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry” reading in Maude Fife. Eight years and she still remembers me, and the surprise visit to Santa Monica where she read with W.S. Di Piero. I will explain the importance of this. I wanted to share how I taught “Black Nikes” and “We Are Not Responsible” from Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002) in Marin County Juvenile Hall. The live oaks and redwoods ringing a compound in the middle of cattle country, where mostly truants, some teen murderers, some teen prostitutes, others drug peddlers and common car thieves, each tallying the street cred earned doing time, each wondering about the dangers of freedom when released. But it’s on the way to Wheeler Hall that mattered. Five preppies, frat-boys at best, found the Buckthorn of Faculty Glade scalable, or assailable. Rather, four polo shirts did nothing to stop arrogant tree climber from testing his weight on the branches. Obviously, the tree needed no help from its slow disintegration. So with my son in hand, I firmly tell Frat-asshole, “To leave the tree alone.” He responds by observing that the tree has gone through a lot and him sitting on top of it shouldn’t make any difference. I take a step forward, “Exactly, leave the tree alone.” Frat-asshole steps down; four tail-waggers step backward. I tell them to leave. “Free world,” says Frat-asshole. I then realized, this was not exactly the right time to have my son, or was it—the preppies were looking at the little boy staring at them; firm he was. They leave. So, I explained to my son as we returned to the path towards Camille Dungy’s event, trees need our protection. We split the peanut butter cookie crumbled in my pocket.
Two weeks later he met Bruce Andrews (and Sally Silvers) at his reading in the same room, no tree needed to be saved, regardless having earned a belated Blondie’s pepperoni pizza. Having heard much about him a few days earlier, they wanted to see him unscathed by life’s uncertainties.
Where there is no grandfather, then fostering authorial or authoritative alternatives improves literacy either way.
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails? Without poetry, what records the erosion? Without poets?
Can we always guarantee safety? Perhaps in a draw when opponents can walk away having not won nor lost.