(Put that down)
Take a deep breath.
Now don’t let it out until you know what you’re doing.
I’d had a tendency of snapping twigs in half.
You can’t do that
You can only throw bad luck at them;
like making wishes
to evil gods we prayed to
when we’re children
or when we’re hurt
Snapping twigs in half as I walked, I
saw something glisten in the grass, a piece of quartz.
Snapping twigs in half: you can’t do that
Stone #1: hate.
Bark and bits of dirt and young splinters (from the countless breaks I’d made)
fall away from my calloused hands as I wipe them clean on my jeans.
You can’t do that with people.
Even now my hands feel sticky with its blood.
Nine stones rattle
in the old Nike shoebox,
like they had then (its blood—
before I picked up the twigs
before I put them down
to pick up the stone—
then the stones, now, not knowing I’d made a quick habit;
but boys are always jumping from one diversion to another.)
but now, nine, anonymous and innocent.
But no, not either, since…which one’s got the…
(not entirely wiped clean—
to this day, how I wipe
clicking against the blueish one (stone #7): this is stone #2,
the only red one (the first one camouflaged in the red clay of my yard).
Calloused and cracked, my hands search for a numerical order.
But I fail to find it and close my eyes to recall, to recite (as I hold
like a murdered bird)
a ditty I made up when I was a kid.
you’ll end up
recalling I’d once
Like they recited,
like I recited:
Stone number three is Papa
Flat, light brown, shale; the jagged knife of justice
(Avenge, revenge, again and again):
stone #4 is an offering to the malicious gods
of seventh-grade boys,
whose only fates were dead mothers and
And so I wished for Roger Vanek to die
(no no not to die
the bird murdered, the murdered bird,
the bird I killed with a gun;
whirled BBs, two at a time
–to make sure I killed–
I murdered and murdered the bird
, but only–laughedatlaughedatlaughedat–or any number of the nameless, doomed fates of seventh-grade boys enacted from malicious gods,
with favored stones collected (a temple perhaps? Rattling my pocket and feeling the space between them dashed my hopes)
the words flowed from my mouth,
the anger flowed from my heart,
in a language of an alien type.
But still I did nothing.
So my wish died its own death. Since I had not blood-stained hands from sacrificial lambs, I accelerated towards my own impotence, a reaction acting unacting;
and so I saw myself clearly–a boy collecting rocks and grumbling about a bully who made fun of his father.
I walked on, not knowing where, but following the tug of my wounded pride to guide me.
Not knowing where I walked,
I walked on.
I listed (then and now listing, with him, that boy of me)
the things in my head for my father to be,
from success of the real–
salesman of the year or a rich new job or a man with bigger
–to the victories of fantasy which blew through my mind at the time–
Superman Spiderman The Hulk Wolverine–
(though nothing stuck)
(Stone #5 was hot; glowing with a heat, either all its own or from the dirt or from my hot hand. Purpose: it glowed with a white-hot purpose for me to use it somehow)
but none stuck;
and from this failure in these descriptions,
real or imagined,
he became once again a failure.
Even now, at the very end of him, he’d failed to be
him to be.
The same thing?
A pair of arthritic hands
and a time-dulled wedding ring?
I’d tried to actually snap Stone #5 in half with my small hands,
the crusted blood under my fingernails making
me think I was stronger somehow (the bird’s blood and the cowardly death I’d caused mixed with comic book characters and a blood-crazy savage somewhere in my long, deep past as a human, perhaps)
Then I remembered the fight that night we’d had
“Get mad at me!” I screamed
at him to scream
When Roger Vanek’s mom called eventually
the window collapsing away from its frame like nothing when the stones
and he listened and nodded and uh-hummed,
then replaced the receiver
and returned to the couch.
Then, what was wrong with snapping twigs like matchsticks?
Do a thing like him and you’ll do it too — what a stupid thing to think!
But not a twig I picked up again for that purpose.
Since now I searched for stones with that hot purpose
in my hands and
in my head,
The stats and descriptions of what I needed to use for them for what?
rose up in my head
Too small too little too big for my pocket too similar to the red one too jagged just right
Counting stones like rosary beads
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
(I count the rocks like Papa
counted the stones of Mama’s old rosary)
So what to give this child version of myself
besides a box of gravel,
a story about a boy who made fun of my father,
a BB gun borrowed with wounded pride,
a bird killed with male-ego aim,
and a busted-out living room window,
(screaming to me still like a tear-wounded eye)?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
How to explain to him
Do a thing like him and you’ll do it too
the fears I have of
him dealing with the gifts I’ve given him without giving,
the blood I’ve bled to him without bleeding?
(Stone six, sixth from the cross). But my stone is
somewhere in the box.
With feigned interest, I search.
Having found it,
I throw the box down
with a cardboarded crash.
A knock on the door.
With that time-polished adolescent stealth,
I lock the door
and sit back down.
But where is Stone #7?
Here it is, the milky-blue stone; and the memory–
Taking the path by the lake to his house,
the one held in the cupped hands of lush, green oak trees. Beautiful and serene, the lake house was one I’d wanted to live in at that time; I still do.
I walked, from my usual spot of longing observation–a little shelter of bushes where the boats came and went, and the trees hissed in stirring meditation.
But no more wishes to evil gods. As I approached the outer gate of the house (a knock on the door; I mumbled a response loud enough for them to leave me alone to my stupid box of rocks), I felt the wind take my skin and hair in its grasp, taking my stomach and squeezing it. The blood rushing (the blood rushing now). I swallow, I swallow, I swallow.
Do something fierce, my head said.
Do something, said my hands.
I clutched the first rock I saw, off a mound of them surrounding their red and brown-painted mailbox. The boy’s mother, the boy’s mouth, moth, mouther, painting, opening, giggles rants and rants and rants show im show im show im! as images had flooded my brain (like images now), coming and going; but hovering over all these, the din of that fierce something-or-other which at one time dwindled now expanded in my blood.
A law was in my own hands now, like the stone (the stone I knew wasn’t in that box, but instead this blue one) was in my hand.
From that far out, I could do it, I’d told myself. I could break it from this. And I did; but not trusting the action, I followed it up with another picking-up of a rock (milky-blue).
The window seemed to explode, as if it’d sneezed, and joy of the aim met but then fright of the action fulfilled froze me. Run I stuffed the blue stone (stone #7) in my pocket–the accomplice–the stone unthrown, but could not move.
Then I broke my fright and ran home (another knock on the door, heavier and with more urgency. Papa, my son announced, was about to be sung to, and his candles about to be blown out. From that voice of his, all-business. And what of my voice? I freeze again. And for me to say to my son and in what voice?), with a pocket full of rocks. A dog had began barking by the house, and I had pictured for an instant the terrible pain of flesh being ripped by dogs’ teeth, like in a movie. But I out ran him. Or maybe it was a stupid, fat dog.
(I stand up and then sit down again. “In a minute,” I answer. The shuffle of his step only sounds after the shuffling of his exhalation in annoyance. Or is it despair? I was never good at differentiating the two.)
Here is where I ran back to, this room,
just as I’ve run back here now.
The shoes since gone but the box still here,
holding these nine stones.
#8 is here–the one I found the day after shattered glass
the one I’d found the day before purple-yellow bruises
just outside the driveway,
when I said I’d wanted to be an archeologist
without the hat and whip;
since “rocks are my thing now”,
since “all I was doing was collecting them”
and not throwing them.
But evidence was what I’d collected,
evidence of the things I’d done bird death shattered window boys shouting laughing like father like son like father like
and the reasons why and the reasons why.
To face him…
To tell him…
I hid them under my bed
in a bag
in a closet.
In the end, he’d found them anyway. In the end, I got
the shit out of me.
In a demented way He cares! it was all I could do from crying from joy.
I stood up and, without counting, bent down to retrieve the scattered stones. Snuck back into the closet, nestled between another shoebox (shoes) and a leather bag (the legacy of my adolescent literary career), it would stay
until I can tell my son about them and about this lesson-somewhere-there. But not now:
a since-found memory of a confused and angry boy is no way to end the funeral of a father.
That night, I found my son sitting on my old bed in that old room, holding a stone.
“Found this by the dresser. Is this yours?”
I nodded my head, wondering how I’d missed it. I hadn’t counted them, though.
I told him the story. And after I’d unloaded all these emotions of what my father was to me and how I didn’t want that same anger and frustration for my attention from him, I tried being a father (which is really all you can do; no single man in all of history has ever been a father, only trying trying trying) by spouting a dozen or so little facts and pieces of wisdom I could. And seeing the all-too-famililar face of mixed confusion and awkwardness, I took a deep breath and remembered my meditation exercises.
I told him that joke about a Buddhist monk and his newest pupil.
“Do you get it?” I asked him after.
“It means that no one knows what they’re doing, so I guess just keep trying your best.”
“Oh. Okay,” with a smile of relief.
Seeing that he was still bobbling the stone (#9) between his hands, I asked him if he wanted to keep it.
“Don’t you want it?”