My sister-in-law and our three-year-old nephew stayed with us for a week. It was great to revisit the classics: Transformers, Ninja Turtles, and Matchbox cars. They will soon be on their way back to Australia. Needless to say, I will miss them.
Spending time together was at once familiar and profound, and as is often the case with such experiences, it prompted me to write. What follows is a poem for my nephew in four parts, and an audio recording of me reading it.
The Avuncular Variations
For my nephew F., age 3
I. "I Don't Love Holly"
I don't love the points on her shine
of green tongue, how she barks like a dog
then threatens with a lawnmower's whine.
She hides her prickles under rotting logs
which give under foot like a boobytrap
plunging you into a sudden dark fog
smearing your leg with red beads of sap
snapping the twigs of your bold outward face
in a move so sudden you can't fight back
when the gutters find tears to embrace,
etching in the not-love of this once-unknown foe
until "Holly" is everything you want to erase
but also to see, and to spot, and to know,
asking, "Holly?" at every furled leaf that we pass
crying, "Holly!" with each stick-sword blow.
She clings to the trees in summertime.
Australian Ivy grows in golden-blonde.
Paired with Holly, makes an English song.
Five centimetres taller, friend and rival.
Passing green creepers called the same name,
his face spun into a perplexed kind of knot,
knowing girl before plant overtook his thoughts,
so he picked an acacia bud and called it "Louis".
Second Adam, naming the world as you see fit,
redraft the story we know on a new continent
drive out snakes, find springs, make us content
to know the world anew through knowing you.
III. Measures and Sums
How many kilometres are you? And how can just one metre be big? I thought I was three: but was that years, feet, or dimensions? Take forty-three and seventy-one, is that a lot? Is it so much to ask for two ones, not one pair, for another another when less just won't do? Which is the biggest piece, the tallest glass? I want to be the more-est one, growing in my sleep.
IV. Sippy Cup
I find it in the cupboard after he's gone
a little duck-billed drinking vessel
flightless, comical, with a gurgling song
pausing for rehydration when we'd wrestle.
Helping him pop off the top made me seem strong
and filing it up with milk meant story time
he'd negotiate the tale, and I would play along,
sipping down his sleeping potion while I rhymed.
Briefly, it was my nickname in graduate school
when at a dinner, I tipped an icy glass too high
streaming the contents onto my shirt in a pool.
"Prefer a sippy cup?" asked a student on the sly.
I'd gladly trade the high things I have learned
to hear again the tweeting of that bird.