Fatherhood is an incredibly challenging, awakening, satisfying, alienating, tiring, and joyful endeavor. A friend, and also one of my favorite local “dad” poets, Chris Martin with the help of Coffee House Press hosted a Father’s Day poetry reading this past weekend at Du Nord Craft Spirits. After the event, Chris gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He said, “I appreciate the constant interrogation of the world in your work.”
As the world shifts, we in the younger generation reclaim the tattered planet that has been handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. I believe many paradigms are shifting, including what it means to be a father and, for that matter, a parent.
The “Ramble Ramble” series has been about exploring art on bikes. Both art and bikes are exceptionally broad subjects, and both are also key elements in the paradigm shifts taking place around us. I have appreciated the wide lenses both have afforded me through which to interrogate the world. Now, included in all that, is the art of parenting.
I spend a great deal of time with my kids outside in the woods, and I believe a healthy reclamation of this planet hinges on what and how we teach our children about the land we live on. We often spend more time worrying about the future than we do being present in the moments at hand. I see poetry as a way to discuss and express what it feels like to live with the changes that are happening around us as young parents: to be a part of the action, to make the commitment to remain present while on the roller coaster of emotions that belongs to accepting the realities of the world we have inherited, determined to keep ourselves, our children, and our places alive.
Hawk Eyed Nephew clutched at the branch tops displaced aquifers roaring beneath him early warnings careened through the garden there was the river mouth and her dress with an asymmetrical hem, fanning the flames of discontent Lemons and limes, nickels and dimes Part gift, part burden, that’s what his father had always said a cave full of sparrows two-penny coffee and clemency Some days you’ll laugh some days you’ll cry, all that water chest high like horsebacks There are two kinds of stories in the world, either a stranger comes to town or someone goes on a journey It doesn’t matter where you sleep behind hay bales, in stables on the hood of a car, aperiodic, up early, with the blues in a sycamore They say he was a devout itinerant, an aesthetic rambler a rock whose colors shown best in the rain, but I never knew my dad One smoldering night a week or so before the warblers got up this far north Sister Chestnut wrapped some raspberries in a torn piece of screen, I saw her through the burdock burying them beneath the porch so we wouldn't lose the seeds she was always leaving things behind the way shells appear on the sand when the tide goes out Her father said, It’s not lonely in these book it’s lonely out in that world, particularly when you note the discrepancies Great Grandma never trusted the establishment fish hooks in driftwood, she scattered sunlight throughout the ferns walked the nine miles into town and back reheated leftover coffee in the afternoons I quit believing in the establishment before I was even aware of it, went like a refrigerator dumped in the river kindly out waiting with the stars His dad used to say the insurance bureau was the first breach of community and, it’s a long way down to your boots, the risks are what will stabilize you In those days, if your barn burned down, the neighbors would come together and help you build a new one Hawk Eyed Nephew taught me to move pollen around, he’d say, it just doesn’t feel right walking these hills without something on my back I learned to accept the unwished-for gifts like mulberries crushed into the sidewalk or pieces of her hair on the shower door, tearing at the petals just to see, and then, there was this business of fathers, like a lake soaking up the sky handing down rainwater one river at a time, I never knew I could absorb so many daggers,never imagined I might mend such light wings with these thick paws But here I am telling countless bedtime stories about Red Fox and Blue Deer teaching them to build fires, cook food, fix bikes, read the stars and distrust authority, with my protector spirit, cawing alongside in the dark I sing them to sleep, lulling the degrees of impermanence night after night, “Nobody here will ever find me, I’ll always be around just like the songs I leave behind me,” I see Sister Chestnut in the soup line waiting with the leaf cutter bees following Hawk Eyed Nephew’s footprints along the bluffs, I still look to them for answers, but the truth is, I invented both of them, I made the whole thing up, because my father was a boatmen lost in thought and I needed vitality, mud on mud, pine and prairie, I chipped out my own map in order to survive this landscape, Now, clutching the branch tops bent over into the grade, and rushing at the banks shirtless, I need to know one last thing What am I supposed to tell my children, what about the loose ash and butterflies, what about the discrepancies, about this grape, that we’ve dropped in the sand? As the bees move out of the clover and the wind becomes a knife in the orchard I look down into the one canyon that never erodes, my heart, all bound up in fly catcher tails and a million miles, Like all the fields at once — understand, I am a part of nature not a member of society This land is our only source of survival and these kids, they are like everything wild, the same principles apply, To protect, we must nurture.