Forever All My Life

I have no idea how many sparrows used to congregate in the enormous ash tree that shaded the west end of the house where I grew up, but their celebration drowned out all else. And if they were startled by something, their silence was so abrupt and so complete that it made me hold my breath and listen. Unless they sensed a genuine threat, they didn�t scatter like other birds. Instead, they waited and watched, until one of their number just had to say something, or burst. This was echoed by solitary voices here and there in the dense canopy. Within a minute or two, the tumult was back in full swing.

Directly north of the ash tree were two big beautiful walnut trees, the branches of which grew together in time to protect our backyard from the blazing afternoon sun. There were birds in those trees as well, but never as many, because walnut trees, being more open and airy, afford less protection. It is easier for a cat to stalk a bird in a walnut tree, for instance, because there are horizontal branches layered throughout. This arrangement suits mockingbirds, though, for those audacious creatures take great joy in teasing and tormenting cats.

When I was growing up, cats were tolerated and to some extent admired, but they were really second-class citizens. We called them all �Kitty,� and didn�t feed them. They hunted for a living, thereby maintaining their dignity and sense of worth. The females were sharp, alert, always on the lookout for a meal. The males were stupid and spent the long hot summers sleeping under bushes. It was common to open the back door of our house and find a fresh pile of feathers � all that remained of a recent meal. As far as I can recall, I never did see a discarded beak or pair of eyes, but sometimes a scaly little foot could be found nearby, already being investigated by ants. The circle of life around our house was indeed efficient, and an inspiring thing to behold: black widow spiders hiding out in dark corners and under boards, menacing yellow jackets with dangling legs like evil landing gear guarding doorways, dragonflies darting at eye-level like miniature pterodactyls, lizards skittering across our shoes � suffice it to say, the atmosphere was charged with danger and excitement.

Oddly enough, I was stung only once by a yellow jacket. Judging by the painful impact, the insect was flying at least forty miles an hour when it hit my upper arm. My father, who happened to be nearby, made some fresh mud at our little drinking fountain on the southwest corner of the house and applied a heavy blob of it to the wound to control the swelling. I wore the mud pack awkwardly, but with pride the rest of the afternoon. The mud worked. It absorbed the poison and reduced the swelling, thereby postponing my death in a hostile world. This was a lucky thing, since there was so much to do and learn before I could become a great writer and well-adjusted adult � contradictory pursuits, I have since learned. And of course I am stuck somewhere in between, one day a semi-productive citizen, the next day a child scribe, still waiting, still listening, still dreaming about sparrows and ash trees.

Every day I remember something else. I remember the little clump of white asparagus my father found growing in the vineyard and transplanted by our well. I remember the tender tips emerging in the spring, and the sound of fresh water filling the cool tank. I remember my mother�s clothesline looking like a ship with great billowing sheets for sails. I remember our garden and orange trees, the tiny frogs climbing the stucco walls of the house on summer evenings, the stars at night, and countless hours spent contemplating the meaning of it all.

For me, a simple walk from one end of the vineyard to the other was a multi-layered journey of mind, body, and spirit, a bathing of the senses in light, shade, and aroma. Whether I was looking for a family member or seeking solitude and silence, I was transformed along the way without ever leaving home. To this day, I can hear my footsteps on the ground, and feel the succulent tips and tendrils of the rapidly growing canes brush against my skin. Our house and farm are every bit as real in my mind as the people I�ve known. They were living, breathing forces that absorbed me as I absorbed them. And they continue to live, though strangers now inhabit our old rooms and enjoy the shade of the trees my father planted. It was not what he intended, I know. But it is what happened. His forever lasted until the end of his life, and I expect mine to do the same. That�s long enough, and all any of us are really entitled to. I hope these words will serve as a reminder of that truth.

July 11, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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