Evening Walk as the School Year Starts

Sydney Lea

When was the last lobotomy, I wonder?
Too late for Carl at least, whom itís all but hopeless
to think of as a whipsaw of hateful passion
that would if it could have torn up his mother and father,
mild as they are; but that's how old villagers say
Carl acted before he was cut. Their smiles are rueful.
They shake their heads, subtle. A raven, unsubtle,
grates from a hemlock as Carl steps into sight.
His wave's familiar: he jerks and drops one palm.
How old must he be? He's ageless. His eyes are empty—
the operation. He turns now: ninety degrees,
then ninety again like a sentry, the other way.
He turns the same on each warm evening, retreating
past the house of our mutual neighbor, who will not speak
to Carl's father, for reasons likely beyond recall.
It seems a shame not to edit grievances.
Itís some awful stink nearby that draws the raven,
but the rest of the world seems fixed on the morbid too:
a squirrel keeps pouring spruce cones down at me;
a gall-blighted butternut groans; the broadleafs wilt;
there's a pair of toads at my feet that wheels have flattened
side by side, like cartoon icons of failure;
mosquitoes strafe me, a mammoth dragonfly—
one of the season's last—attacks a moth
so close to me I can hear the fatal click.
The other day a son went off to college.
His mother and I are quietly beside ourselves.
We embrace each other harder now, and vow,
as one vows, to love our children harder too.
Though I hum to distract myself, the raven dives
loud as gunfire through brush to its mess. I jump,
but Carl doesn't seem to hear. I watch him limp
to his family's drive—then again that sure right angle.
Like him, our family finds a virtue in order:
we rise at six to eat our breakfasts together,
then make a certain sandwich for one of the girls,
a certain one for the other; we leave at seven;
we gather the girls promptly at end of school.
Carl opens his door and shuts it—click—behind him.
It's after Labor Day, it's end-of-summer,
itís another season upon us. Now he scolds me,
that squirrel on his branch, his store of weapons gone.
Why me, dumb brute? I havenít done anything wrong,
Iíve got no grievance with him—not with anyone really.
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
The wishing star is not enough to light
the space around me while this bit of hymn from my schooldays
plays, while daytimeís creatures crawl to cover,
and night ones, having no choice, confront the night.
"Evening Walk as the School Year Starts" is from Ghost Pain by Sydney Lea, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. ©2005 by Sydney Lea. Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books and the author.

Poems by This Author

Recession by Sydney Lea
A grotesquerie for so long we all ignored it

Further Reading

Back to School Poems
by Grace Schulman
Being Jewish in a Small Town
by Lyn Lifshin
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Gradeschool's Large Windows
by Thomas Lux
In Michael Robinsís class minus one
by Bob Hicok
M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942
by Philip Levine
Mary's Lamb
by Sarah Josepha Hale
by MartŪn Espada
Nonsense Alphabet
by Edward Lear
One A.M. [excerpt]
by David Young
Panty Raid
by Terri Ford
by Elizabeth Powell
Sentimental Education
by Mary Ruefle
by Shel Silverstein
The Hand
by Mary Ruefle
The High-School Lawn
by Thomas Hardy
The Junior High School Band Concert
by David Wagoner
The Testing-Tree
by Stanley Kunitz
Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School
by Christopher Bursk
You and Your Ilk
by Thomas Lux