Ode to Summer

There is time to play
With bare feet
And the sun beaming down.

Leeward tides roll along seas of green hills.

I am very young, now,
It is night time,
And my sister sleeps next to me.
We are wrapped for warmth in the chill of the Northern night,
Sandwiched between our parents.

I hear gentle waves from beyond the barrier of our tent,
The wind caressing the trees, an owl in the distance.

There is only peace here, and safety.
I am home.

Twenty years gone,
And the sun mocks me.
It taunts me with oppressive heat.

It is August, and my neck and shoulders burn.
Not from ultraviolet radiation,
From carrying power equipment
And picking up the slack of those
Too lazy to pick up a goddamn weed-eater!

They call it, “bitch-work”
Behind my back…

My hands are rough.
They ache with my knees and spine.

But I bring beauty to the world,
And the world brings it back to me.

Weeks spent in the North, to get away.
Around Detroit or Cleveland or Buffalo;
To small places like White River, Lac Victoria, and Wawa.

It was there that I fell in love for the first time.

We were young, just passing each other
Outside a small general store:
The old kind with sundries and novelty bubblegum.

She waited on the stoop for someone,
Or something, eating ice cream.
But I never spoke to her.
Never said, “Hello,”
Or asked her name.

It was likely a beautiful name,
Laden with meaning.

A year passed and I walked down country roads,
Talking and being silent
With a different girl.
She was sweet, kind, and faithful.

I wished she would be with me,
And I told her as much.
But her feelings differed from mine.

She fancied my best friend.
So, graciously, I stepped back.
I didn’t fight or beg,
Because I didn’t want to lose her.

I told him, they became a couple.
For a while, anyway.

Now, I see women,
No longer girls.
They wear flowing floral dresses—
Summer dresses—

That come to their knees,
Exposing delicate curves
Of thighs and hips and busts.

With intricate patterns and fancy shoes or hair.
Sometimes, just sneakers or sandals.
Sometimes, just a ponytail or braid.

They don’t walk,
They dance across sunlit pavement
To music I can’t hear.

In June, fifteen years ago,
I was a terrible baseball player.
I played among the best,
But I helped us lose the championship.
The last at-bat, full count,
Swing and a miss.

My teammates pat me on the back,
Consoling with, “good game,” but silently blaming,
Like I blamed myself.

A decade later,
Standing in plaid cargo shorts and flip-flops
In tall grass beading with dew,
At the top of a small mound
Surrounded by Appalachian hills.

All minds reeling from the onset of powerful drugs.

Music drifts from the distant stage,
Filling the air with harmony.

A magenta sky swirls with clouds in sunset,
And the stars begin to peek out of the purple behind me.
The grass is cool and refreshing on my bare legs.
Awe and inspiration.

We are fleeting as the birds.

It was better than the day before,
When panoramas took infinite depth:
Backdrops of silhouettes,
Like a Chinese shadow puppet theater.

Fireflies flashed among the trees,
Looking for mates.
In a small grove overlooked by the balcony,
Where we found oneness,
Where we became whole.

Five years earlier,
I had no idea who I was or what I wanted,
Only that I had good friends,
Who would later leave me behind.

We sat at my house, in my room,
Laughing at the antics of each other.
They were as lost as I was,
Not knowing the future,
Not caring for the past.

We were creatures of the present, then.

Three years after, I worked and withdrew,
And they let me,
But not before taking me to the woods again,
Where I was made the punch-line.

The year before, we’d lived for a week together,
Away from our homes,
Marking our transition into autonomy,
Into independence.

It was an alcoholic blur that lasted three years,
For me at least.
For some, it got better,
For others, it got worse.

I can only remember anger
In the Smoky Mountains,
And loneliness when I returned.

It was a decade after I hiked the steep hills in July,
With my father and mother and sister.
As children, we put ridiculous names to places we saw,
So we could commit them to memory.

Eventually, we forgot, but our parents remembered.

So did I once I saw them again,
Hiking the same Appalachian hills
Nearly two decades later,
Though they were covered in moss and dead leaves,
Overgrown with vines of greenbrier and blackberry.

After I’d lost the stomach for red meat,
After a tick bite nearly took my life,
With a week of pain and hallucinations

From hunger and dehydration and deprivation of sleep.

I had been slothful before,
Waiting for life to take shape around me,
“Never again,” I vowed.

So, I took up hatchet and machete,
To clear away the brush and bramble
Of lost youth,
To cut trails back to the past,
Toward remembrance and direction.

I have been shown the way,
I need only the strength to follow.

There is time to play
In cool water,
In the scent of freshly cut grass,
In the verdant blooms of wildflowers.

With bare feet,
And the sun beaming down.

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