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Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Length of the Path

Laying in bed before troubled sleep
returns to surprise in colored dreams
with an impossible story
comes the memories of children's feet
on a hilly forest path to school
surrounded by the brown grass
of a snow-less winter or dry summer
among old pines flagged from wind
at the top of Hangman's Hill
with its beige and pink sandstone

The path returns in the morning
from the house sided in dull red
to the area behind the rock that marks
the top of the hill down the other side
to the road around the corner
or crossing the old witch's land
who yells trespass warnings
before you pass the mayor's house
seeing friends on the playground
playing tag or chasing games

Thousands of hikes to and from the school
where the first polio vaccines
on sugar cubes gave a mother confidence
that what happened to her brother
in an iron lung won't happen to her child
the school where friends would play
and old people voted in the gym
We played war games there of an old world
where real wounds happen bloodless
with loaded sticks or pine cone grenades

The first days of school began at a bowl
of limp cereal in changing seasons
when there were no problems dry or wet
challenging kids more than arithmetic
in a red brick building with gravel playground
Inside dark halls were forgotten brass
plaques to remind forgotten students
of the people who approved money
for the building of this school
and their commitment to learning

All students waited for Saturday mornings
with Mighty Mouse if the family was lucky
to have invisible television radiation
close enough to the towers of two stations
no more silence in the night to read
sitting on the carpet close waiting
for Ed Sullivan to show us Buddy Holly
being told to back up because being close
will ruin the eyes with which we need to read
the books in later times would become irrelevant

All the memories of the path are different
resting quietly inside those kids
who pull them up to wonder about them
or laugh at what was serious to teachers
as some of them came to school
hungry or in torn clothing from shacks
after a night where drunken dad beat mom
or arguments disturbed a darkened bedroom
when children would cry pulling covers
knowing parents could not love

Most of the whispers would disappear
learning the words for tests of memory
with spelling the days when corrections
weren't underlined on a glowing screen
but checked in red by unmarried teachers
who were smart to be single and free
The more we knew from the news
it was mostly that we learned Crest
was tested against other toothpaste
making us 34 per cent better with Fluoristan

Now the commercials are more believable
than the repeated news on some channels
The informative presenters have nothing
and never give us tests they check in red
These news stars of fact also know
what ad agencies say about repetition
So true or not we all live over-informed
near Hangman's Hill's blue pasque flowers
that grow in bunches along the path
enough for teacher enough for mother

Some days we played in school
because the radioactive fallout
was so bad from who knows where
from over the hills from over the seas
There was no understanding this
because it looked the same outside
just as any other day in our town
just as any other week in other seasons
So over the years our parents died
our friends died too of cancer this or that

How many inches of memory
are used to make this message
how much of it lost to chemicals
that we were told was part of better living
As we watch our planet die
with plastic piling up in the oceans
in the guts of birds fish and mammals
oil and gas still rule the lands of earth
only the lies have changed from tigers
in the tank to tanks at the doorsteps

Children and grandchildren show up
in invisible bytes of ones and zeroes
who have murmurs in the heart
disabilities too hard to explain
a need for chemicals to concentrate
all the while teachers no longer
believe it important to check wrongs
on papers turned in to show progress
only that all students should be encouraged
to be there the day of the national test

We wonder now if what we made
was not the world we wanted
just something we tumbled through
in which grandparents rolled before us
in their old clothes the future down-loaders
will laugh at and never really know
what the pictures reveal to be true
that we are just as ignorant of our age
as they were of their making-something-better
that takes the challenges away from some

No one returns to the path on the side of the hill
going back and forth to the red-brick school
to and from the redwood sided house
in a small meadow below the crest
of Hangman's Hill where three horse thieves
ended their lives at the behest of locals
who thought stealing a horse equaled death
just as today when we think just being a child
in a land faraway is worthy of death from the sky
when our path now conflicts with the kings of oil

This path is steep or rocky in places near and far
It's the same path going to and coming from
that has been beneath feet in many shoes
The first paths are always the one that stay
locked into the mind like anchored rocks
This could be anyplace with its varied flora
being picked to take or picked on the way home
It is always the same feet one after the other
So up the steps into the house paths take us
where land is flat or hilly the result is the same

Barry G. Wick

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