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The Fearful Child


ISSUE:  Autumn 1981

As a child I parleyed with animals, stuffed and real.
Making my kitten pilot of a boot, I guided
from one end of a string the dizzy flight and collapse.
I was fearful of people as well as things,
and my faithful toy shepherd with his painted face
sat by me on the bed in the gloom.
I was disdainful of dolls as weak people.

In the favorite story I told myself my parents
were made over into fair-limbed, brave angels
who smiled into their god’s eyes when summoned.
I was benevolent, afraid to let go of this image
at night because I couldn’t hide deep enough
under the covers to be overlooked by death,
the angel bending over me who had been wronged.

I read histories of queens, regal and barbarian,
whose leopard’s eyes restrained man or wild beast.
I rambled along tidal rivers and in the marshes
where the green-golden grasses dazzled the sun,
and felt the ache of sea-air in my lungs.
I saw water spume near Atlantic cliffs.
I examined lichen. I saw great light drown darkness.

Then at 13 I lay in the bleak bed before sleep
and burned, like a bear his fat, my soul.
I quaked at the sound of my voice whispering, No,
down the empty hallway to my parents’ door,
or turned my face to the wall
and wept salt onto my knuckles.

In the serene light of sun-up, before sparrows
tumbled up from the earth, whispering and singing,
and the exquisite sea and sky mobilized
their heavy, blue currents, I was consoled.
I walked through beauty without knowing why
and told no one, wanting nothing else to touch me
and never to move anyone in any way.

I hid away from the house and learned the dark
was not a dream but could show the pale gravel
of a real driveway. I saw for the first time
later the new moon and the full moon
in one piece. I no longer feared the night,
night like a bear at ease in his wide habitat.
In the greatness of such space I said, This is me.

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