Three poems about childhood that made me cry. From Diane Tucker's new book, Nostalgia For Moving Parts. So particular, so much compassion. Get yourself a copy. I'm not kidding.
The small, huge things that sad men do, sad
men who build with everything but words.
Build dollhouses, train sets, HO mountains
from cereal boxes and plaster of Paris,
building the mountains they can for their sons.
For daughters they build scroll-sawed
shelves to hold phalanxes of dolls, blown-glass
animals, Barbie barns above the bed’s blue lace.
Sad fathers who’ve eluded words carve magic
circles in their back lawns for swimming
pools. They sieve stones out of the soil circles
so nothing will nick the pools’ thin blue skin.
This is the testament of sad men who live
starved of words: drywall, carport, pickle jars
of nails, lawnmower, farmer’s tan, house paint,
apple tree, soldering gun, handsaw, wood plane.
Wood shavings falling from the vise,
wooden curls on the cold garage floor,
wooden curls warm on little girls’ ears.
Skipping ropes at school, their woven heft.
Steel poles around the roofed playground, the rain
running down them luminous, metal-melting.
I’d press my tongue against a pole and drink.
School was a world of delicious new textures:
fat crayons, creamy manila colouring paper,
notebooks, worksheets stacked fat as animal bodies.
Tables and chairs with shiny metal tubes for legs.
Even light at school felt stronger than at home.
They showed us filmstrips of marmalade leaves
against a blue blue sky, all technicolour-crisp.
How I loved those glowing celluloid leaves!
Then the cloakroom hooks’ imploring curves,
parallel silences in calm, rectangular shadows,
the pavement tap-dance beat of skipping ropes.
How I loved school, the sweet order of desks
in grids. So I wasn’t totally upset when, in grade
two, Danny with the French last name tied me to
a pole with a skipping rope so he could kiss me,
Danny with the round eyes, a cherub’s mouth,
curly hair. He was small even among the small,
as I was. No doubt I’d flirted with him, grade-two
style, cute and clueless. I thought myself a lady.
Were kisses procured? I bet there were a few.
Soon the rope loosened and I made a dash.
But Danny pushed me back. A metal pole I loved,
from which I’d drunk the rain, rushed up
and struck me in the bone below one eye.
A shiner it was called. I had a shiner. I’d seen
them on TV, cartoon-red beefsteaks on faces.
Danny got the strap then, or another time, or both.
He came back to class subdued, his crying
eyes swollen. As if a hiding could patch up his
love-starved soul. He chased girls, he lifted skirts,
he stole kisses, and the grown-ups just spanked
his ass? Poor Danny, tiny paramour, tiny batterer!
As long as I knew him, Danny chased the girls,
staring expectantly through big brown eyes.
Whatever makes boys seize girls roiled in him.
That yearning he had, no strap could smack it out.
And no black eye stopped me flirting. I was seven
and had imprinted on romance like a baby bird.
I followed its Hollywood promises everywhere,
persistent and imploring as a cloakroom hook.
Beautiful grade four teacher
always wore his shirt half open,
had dry-look hair and eyes bigger
than Donny Osmond’s. Sometimes
he used swear words in class.
I fell hard in grade four love.
I remember the day I had to wear
the hand-me-down dress to school.
Polka dots, pleats, Peter Pan collar.
1974 was bell-bottoms, feathered hair,
Three Dog Night and Doodle Art.
It was neither pleats nor polka dots.
It was in no way a Peter Pan collar.
But crushy teacher, lounging atop a desk,
fixed me, with round, pale eyes, in his stare.
He grafted two trees to a single rootstock,
kindness twinned forever with desire.
You look smashing, he said, in that dress.
The world lit up. I clutch that moment,
talisman still, the heat that flowered when he
noticed my smallness, my sadness, and spoke.
Nostalgia For Moving Parts is published by Turnstone Press, 2021. Copies available through their website.