Red Room has asked us to blog on transitions, something I thought about continually during my divorce. My son's second grade teacher said he was doing okay but seemed to have a particularly hard time with transitions. At that time we didn't know Scotty was an artistic type (he's in the second year of an MFA program at NYU called Musical Theater Writing) but that should have been a major clue. While we all have a hard time with transitions, I think an artistic person might have a harder time than most in closing, for example, a writing assignment and breaking open the math book. At any rate, my thoughts on transitions led to a poem, perhaps the central poem in Nineteen Poems Around a Divorce and Beyond.
I: Overnight at Dad's
Tuesday night, dark as death except for
the digital clock that beams 3:28.
The kids are with my wife, who left nine months ago.
The teachers say they're doing well,
except Scotty, eight, has problems with transitions.
I roll over and remember my recent lower G. I. exam;
this new rite of passage to middle age.
He and that nurse pushing their ninety-foot probe past
a small throbbing hemorrhoid as the nurse says "Watch the teevee."
--I still see tiny brown specks like pebbles on a pink path.
Wednesday evening Scotty settles himself at the piano.
Kate, ten, takes me into her room to discuss
what we've never talked about before.
She carefully prints what she wants to say on lined paper.
"Daddy, if it were me
you'd be all the husband she should need."
I hug her and say "I made mistakes--
we both made a lot of mistakes."
She says "Did you kill anyone?"
She looks at me squarely as if
nothing less would warrant this.
Kate says, "Jesus says we should all forgive.
You know that, Daddy."
I say, "Grownups' lives aren't so simple,"
as Scotty pushes through the door
crying, "Don't leave me out like this!"
- -calm them.
Lie down with them until they doze off.
Then get up, clear the table, start the dishwasher,
finally tumble in with them--
hug one child then the other through the night.
Wednesday night at 4:12 I think about my mistakes.
Jesus called sin, "missing the mark."
But scholars are going over the evidence now, the scrolls,
and only a few words can they agree on.
I'll bet "missing the mark" won't make the cut . . . .
The clock says 4:46 when I start worrying about Scotty --
slow at moving from one thing to another.
We expect so much from these kids
you never finish what you're doing
but the toughest thing about transitions
are the sores you bring to what's next.
At 5:16 I put my arm around lightly-sleeping Kate,
who, thank God, seems to feel safer that way.
There is no doubt she breathes deeper now.
Feeling unexpectedly blessed, I draw a deep breath myself,
bone-tired, head toward sleep.
II: Waiting for Dawn
Although Kate and Scotty have their own rooms,
when their mom moved out we all slept in the double bed.
Everyone said this was chancy with a daughter,
so for a while Kate slept by us on a floorpad,
then in her own room, just to the East.
Still my boy sleeps with me.
If I touch him while he's falling asleep,
he recoils and I retreat.
Toward morning, though, while it is still dark
an arm or leg or his back touches me.
When I turn and lightly hug him,
Scotty melts to my body like a pillow.
At the first hint of light,
I loosen from Scotty and think of Kate.
Alone and being to the East, she will have to face it first.
She seems to have been born knowing this.
III: Middle School
"Scotty, you wanted me to wake you before I go to exercise,"
I say at 5:45 to Scotty, in his own room now.
I touch him and he pulls away. "Here, hot chocolate," I say.
At six, jockwomen, stopwatches around their necks,
grind me through lunges, freeweights, crunches, and pushups
before we head off to do "stadiums," where we climb the
eighty stairs to the top. After three trips, I'm sweating, breathless.
The bowl gets steeper up high, so the last eighteen steps are brutal.
My heart pounds in my ears, but I keep going,
and the pause at the top isn't completely unlike orgasm,
hunched over crying for two breaths into my folded arms
only to then look up, out over the waking town I call home
where Kate sleeps and Scotty fiddles with his math.
When I get back, Scotty is at the piano. "Homework done?"
I ask, and he returns to the coffee-table where he's working.
I make sure Kate is up and pour myself some grapefruit juice.
When she joins me I say "good morning," and she glares,
then says, "Please tell me you didn't wear those shorts,"
and I look down at my blousy old neon-pink-and-azure bathing suit.
"Guilty," I say with a smile, "but I finally did five stadiums."
"Dad, you're absolutely hopeless," she says.
I tell Scotty even if he isn't through it is time to gather his books
and brush his teeth. "When Kate wants to leave, she can," I say.
Now that they ride bikes, Scotty knows he's lost his old power
to make us wait for him-he stuffs his backpack like a sausage.
"And your teeth," I say, and he heads back to the bathroom.
That's about it. They join the kids pedaling toward middle school.
Scotty joins choir and Kate's taken up guitar: music abounds.
By now they are at school and it's like the view after
I reached the top of the stadium: pain, then an unexpected vista.
I ache everywhere, but my heart, my heart, my heart has held.
Causes Kevin Arnold Supports
Poetry Center San Jose, East Palo Alto Police Activities League (EPA PAL), Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Yale Writing Conference, Gold Rush Writers