To the Hermit with the Mahogany Leg

When a member of the science-and-conservation camp staff told our group of sixth-graders about you, I was twelve and in the prime of life. I was still sound of mind and body, hadn�t yet suffered my bout of heat exhaustion while pitching in a little league game at Roosevelt Park at the end of Elizabeth Way in Dinuba, California, and was in agreement with all things except dishonesty.

We lived in camp a week. We were assigned stale bunks in cabins named after small San Joaquin Valley towns, suffered in smelly outhouses that threatened to overflow, avoided bathing, and went on dangerous nature hikes. You lived in the mountains somewhere around there, or used to � I was under the impression you had already died. If we were told your name, I don�t remember it. What I do remember is that you were supposed to have had a wooden leg made of mahogany, and that this rugged limb of yours was devoured by termites. Looking back, this seems like something you could have avoided. But the story was captivating for a sixth-grader, and so a few weeks later in a speech before a gathering of parents in the Grandview School cafeteria, I said, �And . . . uh . . . well . . . termites like mahogany, so . . .� and the parents smiled as I tugged nervously at the bottom of my shirt. I talked about you for several minutes, but this is all I remember � along with the lousy taste in my mouth, the faces of the politely suffering moms and dads, and the wonderful feeling of relief when it was all over and I had returned to the safety of my seat.

The hikes weren�t really dangerous. But I almost lost an eye when I failed to notice a barbed-wire fence and ran into it as I was bounding down the trail. The adult leader of our expedition hurried over and asked if I was all right. I said I was fine, but my response was met with an expression of growing concern. I felt no pain, and was unaware of the blood running down my cheek. He told me to take off my shirt and had me hold it against the wound. The shirt turned red. We walked back to camp, and then I was rushed by car to the nearest town, where I was treated and bandaged in a doctor�s office. I remember the waiting area was large and quite warm, and had wooden benches similar to church pews. But there was nothing church-like about the place. It was more like being in an old courthouse. There were slowly turning ceiling fans, and tall windows that looked out onto the street. What was the name of the town? Spring-something. I still have the scar. It�s under my left eye.

Now, almost forty years have passed. I would love to know where and when you were born and who your parents were. I wish you could tell me what led you to become a hermit. Maybe you went off hunting one day and found the solitude and wilderness-song too powerful to resist, or could find no way to reconcile their beauty with your life at home. My guess is, you didn�t have a real home, but a place, or places, where you returned out of habit, necessity, and maybe even love. I know that feeling. I know what it�s like to live happily for years in the same place, and yet wonder all the while if I will ever see home again. What I haven�t experienced is the final revelation or collapse that makes it seem impossible to carry on. I hope I never do, because so much is at stake, and because I am already hermit enough.

April 23, 2005

Previous Entry     Next Entry     Return to Songs and Letters     About the Author

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

Main Page
Author�s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Let�s Eat
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
E-mail & Parting Thoughts

Flippantly Answered Questions

Top of Page