Voices on the Wind Voices from Teen Years
Burning the Boy Away by Dick Bakken Prose-poem reprise of my 25 years childhood through high school teens and on into adulthood Through the dark the boy ran, laughing, off the dirt road into the field and flopped down in the tall grass. He laughed softly because he was hiding and because he thought she still followed him. He laughed, imagining her footfalls. In a few moments he realized she was not looking for him—she had turned back. He lay still, saddened. A cricket sang somewhere close, deep in the grass. The boy turned over on his back, drew his hands up behind his head—the cricket paused. So many stars. Thousands. Millions. Pleasant night. No clouds. Alone. One cricket. So many stars. She went back. Want her. Warm breeze. I’ll stay awhile. Love grows old and bickering. Next week—three years. She cared to chase me then. Not today. Today—my birthday. Should have been good. Here. She went back. Far away as the stars. Never reach them. Never get close. Distance. Space. Void. Each star burning out alone in the dark. Birthday candles. One for each day of my life. Twenty-five years. One-fourth of my life. Gone. Soon all gone. Like my red dog Flame. Aunt Alva. How many others born and gone? A star for each one ever. One star is mine. Which? Lighted on my creation. One star for each day of creation. How many days—eons? How many of us? How many days for me? Burning out. Lost glory burning out in the void. Why should I see stars? Never be close. Far away. Far from even this close cricket. In the same grass. In the same grass? Does he sing to the stars? Why should I hear his song? The small voice stopped as the boy turned in the grass toward the road and raised himself to his elbows. At the end of the field, partly hidden in the dark trees and their blackest shadows stood an old two-story house met on all sides by open grassy fields. A full grayish moon drifted slowly, floating low above the house far behind the silhouetted branches of the trees. I grew up in that house. What’s happened? So far away. Across the field—the road—the years. Never get close. I’m here. The house is there. There, the apple tree Grandpa found the porcupine in. One morning early, there—two pheasant cocks fighting. There, Flame caught a robin. Hide-and -go-seek behind those trees with Alva. A birthday party on that lawn. Painted “STOP” on that telephone pole by the road. Or “SLOW.” Are the painted words still there? Can words prove my past? Or even paint? Where now is the boy in the black cape who flew like death through the yard? My sisters cried. Do I possess my past? Can’t reach it. Across the road. Who lives there now? I was the boy, so natural, as much a part of it as any of those elms. Gone. Can walk over there. But can no longer feel a part. Unnatural. Out of place. Theirs now. People behind those walls. Light in there. Dark out here. They don’t know I’m here, was there. Have we lived in the same house? Knock on their door. “May I see my old room?” I’d be awkward in it. Disappointed. The places and things of the past are no longer mine. Possess only memories. Twenty-five years of them. Who can know me without knowing my memories? Who can know this night? Even if I tell—Not my wife. Children. Parents. And do I know them?They’re talking now. Ready for bed. Would like me home. Chat and bicker. We make our lives so petty. I’m in a different world tonight. Why tonight? Odd. Beautiful. Sad. The boy stood up slowly in the dark, frightening the cricket, brushed himself, and carefully walked across the field and back up the road away from the house, stopping every three or four steps to turn and look at the lights shining through the trees from the windows of the old, familiar two-story shadow. In the blackness he peered down the dark road past the old house, turned, and peered up the road past his dead aunt’s small cottage toward his parents’ new home and on in the direction of his own home, 400 miles across the mountains. Soon he began to turn slowly, all the way around several times, stopping now and again to stare into the darkness. Chased pheasants with Flame in that field. Found her poisoned in that one. Then cried in that driveway with my grandmother. West Valley High School that way. Some other boy belongs there now. Pullman that way. Two years lost there. Five years lost that way—Tacoma. Which way is Portland? How many years will I lose there? Alva’s cottage. She’s dead a month. Some girl lives there now. Alva’s cold body seemed so far away. That way—Marci Garnant. That way—Jon Meyer. Steve Lynch. Sandy Jacobsen. Jerry Poppen. My closest friends dead to me now. Flame dead. Alva dead. Friends gone. All of us dying. Going out like candles. Stars. The boy walked quickly past his dead aunt’s cottage on to his parents’ low, one-story home, crossed the treeless new-mown yard to the patio, and sat down quietly in a canvas lawn chair. He stared sometimes at the close, brightly painted wall of the new house and sometimes at his new Volkswagen loaded with luggage parked in front. Go in? Feel natural in there—a part. Are my wife and parents asleep? Going in would shut this night off. Is it supposed to be over yet? Sleep in my car. Can walk over to it. Feel natural. A part. How long until I can’t. Can never again sit naturally in my old home. Can’t even see it from here. New home in the way. Is it there, a shadow beneath the stars, as it was a few minutes ago? Can’t even see the stars—only this patio roof. No cricket singing here. Inside, she’ll say she’s sorry. Always such petty bickering—apologies —more bickering. Was it almost different tonight? I thought we were laughing. Where am I to sleep on my birthday? The boy went to the Volkswagen and took a blanket from it. He walked back down the road past his dead aunt’s cottage toward his boyhood home, but stepped off the road and walked well into the field, making sure he was exactly halfway between his old home and the cottage. He spread the blanket over the grass, sat down and pulled off his boots. Suddenly he leaned forward into the night—surrounded by the blackest outside shadows a young blondish boy haloed in the lighted window of the old home sat writing at the kitchen table. A dream. I sat writing many times in that same window, in that same chair. Now the image of my blond son ten years hence. But ten years previous that is me. He doesn’t know I am here. What is tonight? What are these twenty-five years—these candles in the dark? Who has ever understood the stars? * * * * * * * Stiff in the chill early morning gray, the man heard soft sounds near his head. He turned, curious. A pheasant hen—gone in a moment off through the tall grass, her rustling and clucking becoming fainter and fainter as she ran.