I blame DaVinci.
Well, sort of.
In second grade, trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I quickly discarded the usual fare cowboy astronaut space pirate who is King of Scotland felt like a lot of work and I was drawn to art. So I decided to become Leonardo DaVinci.
Here was a man who painted a lion at age ten that was so realistic, disbelieving neighbors came from miles around to see for themselves. In addition, he invented machines to traverse air and water hundreds of years before his time. I read several biographies on him by second grade, and was fascinated by the creative force that drove him. A need to create and understand that led him to visit morgues illegally, to study anatomy. I felt that need to understand human so intimately was the reason his paintings came alive.
I was a weird kid.
You’re probably asking “what does that have to do with this poem?”
By fifth grade I realized that I draw well, but would never have the patience to master the realism of classical artists. In the process, I realized words could achieve something similar. Language, that dubious gift, could reflect or reassemble what it means to be human and be equally artful.
Years ago I decided to keep a “photo album” of the children in verse. To explore the dwellings and dwindlings of light, the taste of coffee as I wake them, and the way their hair smells. When they reach adulthood, I will give them a book filled with the memories I have kept.
This poem will be one of them. My attempt at portraiture.
It began when we fell asleep watching movies. I woke around midnight because my youngest son was thrashing around with a fierce look on his face. I began to think of the stories he told of feeling left out at school, and I scribbled the first few words on a nearby napkin. As he slept, I thought back on my own adolescence. Feeling smaller than everything and wanting needing to understand people, so I could understand myself.
The first draft came easily. Blending his experiences with my memories, I tried to walk in his dream. Often, as parents, we can only travel part of our children’s path. At some point their path diverges to carry them towards their own adventures. It is not always easy to let them journey alone, because we worry. We remember the times we felt overpowered, and struggling to recognize our place in the world. This is what my children are beginning to experience and this poem went through many drafts as I tried to include all of that in a short poem.
In the end, I pared the poem down to what I hope are the most necessary, most elemental images and words. As often happens, crafting the poem allowed me to actually practice the action of letting go.