I Want to Believe Thoreau Before

I   W A N T   T O   B E L I E V E   T H O R E A U   B E F O R E is the name of my Master of Fine Arts thesis. It’s also the name of a poem contained therein. It is now, also, the name of this book. I Want to Believe Thoreau Before is a dream I had in Loveland, Colorado.

Born 1817—died 1862, Henry David Thoreau remains an image of a real patriot, a real individual, a unique and unequivocal pain in the ass who lives still in the soil of New England. He resides embedded in the molecular structure of bean plants reaching for spring sun. His brogue and beard are no more. He is long dead and gone. Long live Henry David Thoreau.

Biking through the woods of Big Finn Hill Park east of Seattle, I am startled one spring morning when I emerge into the parking lot of Henry David Thoreau Elementary School. Trails meander through these few acres of wilderness, with evidence of smoking and drinking left in loose sparkling circles of litter at the trail intersections nearest the streets which border the property. Broken green and brown glass glitters in the trail and I wish I was far away in the high mountains of the Cascades climbing a rocky singletrack to a view of Seattle far, far in the distance. But I emerge into the parking lot of Henry David Thoreau Elementary separated by space and a few brick walls from bushels of pink erasers circling above spelling lessons atop #2 pencils like beans on a vine in the wind. How can this harvest fail?

2

When did I first Want to Believe Thoreau Before? Perhaps when I was in fourth grade. Mr LeBlanc gave me a book called My Side of the Mountain, in which Sam Gribley, an older boy, took me to the Catskill Mountains with him. Twelve and ten we were. We hitch-hiked far from home, neither of us questioning why we were leaving. On the old Gribley farm, alone, miles from anyone or anything I knew, the apples hung low and sweet. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know to ask why.

After I’d been on the property for most of the summer, a hiker, a school teacher, wandered across my path. He named me Thoreau. He’d say, “Hey Thoreau,” or “How are you doing today Thoreau?” But this teacher didn’t encourage me to dig for Henry David Thoreau, the real Henry David Thoreau. I was surrounded by rocky soil, hardwood—maples, oaks. Perfect trout streams. I lived in a hollowed-out tree. What more could I want? Thoreau Before? I didn’t know to want that. I didn’t know to dig, and now, I know, that is the problem.

A french nun invented fly fishing not far from my imaginary homestead on the old Gribley farm. I saw her with her habit pulled up around her knees as she waded into the cold water, casting and casting.

3

One summer morning I decided to do it. I thought I should make a list first.

My list:

bicycle

backpack

hatchet

knife

matches

fishing pole and tackle

extra socks and underwear

pencil

notebook

sleeping bag

This seemed fairly inclusive to my 10 year old mind. Surprisingly, it’s not much different than the list I made at 23 when I next decided to do it. That next list had a bottle of Jim Beam on it and a Mazda 323 hatchback.

My little town of Clayton, New York was too far from the Gribley farm, which sat far to the south in the Catskills. And while the Adirondacks were closer, I knew they provided a very harsh winter. I thought I would start by biking to French Creek and following it away from my house and away from the St. Lawrence River and away from everything I knew. Somewhere out there Thoreau was waiting for me.

My mother wanted to know what I was doing in the attic. She told me I’d fall through the ceiling if I wasn’t careful and that I should come down right away. Because the attic had no floor, you had to move around balancing on the joists and beams if you were going to move around up there. You really could fall through the ceiling below!

I decided to just go for a bike ride instead. That interrogation concerning the attic was too much for me. My mother wouldn’t understand my list, much less my balancing act in the attic. “I’m just looking around,” I told her. I’d been looking for items on my list.

I rode my bike down by the water, downtown, where tourists were sitting on benches pointing at the cargo ships heading west toward Lake Ontario. Not far from them was a monument shaped like a lighthouse flanked by two cannons. The monument stared across the channel to Calumet Island and the lone tower there staring back a half-mile away. The monument was dedicated to people who died in a war some time ago. It sat between Hungerford’s Hardware store and Pearl’s discount store. The lighthouse monument was built from pink granite which some time ago was carved out of the islands out there in the St. Lawrence. There was a plaque on it that said something about these people who died in a war some time ago.

Many years later Thoreau told me he had left a note for me there on that pink tower flanked by two cannons. I must have coasted past it a couple thousand times, looking between it and the other tower on Calumet Island without ever noticing.

4

Sixteen years later I stepped off an RTD bus on the east edge of CU campus in Boulder, CO. I had boarded the bus at about 5:30am in Denver in the dark wearing my sweater and turtleneck, a winter coat, carrying my bag of clothes and gear for the week. I had just come from the train which had brought me from Syracuse, NY. Syracuse was experiencing a blizzard when I left. It was March.

I had seen fire licking the sides of enormous tin buildings in Gary, Indiana on my way. I had seen the laundry and litter and broken down streets of the south side of Chicago. And I had seen the beautiful immaculate interior of the Chicago Union Train Station full of girls handing out cold beers and pointing the way to tasty fat hot dogs. I had crossed the Mississippi for the first time and recognized the immediate opening of space as one crosses heading west. Nebraska was little more than a horizon dotted by red barns forty miles away. Enormous sprinklers quietly wore damp paths around circular fields. Finally, heading toward a Denver morning on Amtrak the sunrise began to gently reveal the Front Range, though I did not know that’s what I was seeing. I only saw an abrupt end to the high flat prairie, and to my first journey west.

I stepped off the RTD bus and began to sweat and feel very hot. I thought the altitude was taking its toll. I’d heard that it would. As I walked into the early morning of CU campus, making my way toward I knew not where, I felt completely weak and spent. Heavy and hot. Overwhelmed by the altitude I kept thinking.

Just then two college girls jogged past me wearing spandex shorts and sports bras. The first Boulder people I had seen. They were lovely, fit and tanned, running side by side like a well synchronized four-legged welcome wagon. So lovely. The sun was just lighting up the rosy hues of the Flatirons, though I didn’t know about them yet, and it occurred to me that they should be cold, the two lovely joggers. I saw another person in the distance now, entering a store wearing shorts. I took off my coat. I took off my hat and sweater. It must have been seventy degrees. 

I stood there on the wide sidewalk with my pack and heavy clothes at my feet and a motorcycle drove past. The helmetless driver wore shorts and a t-shirt. All I wanted was a bicycle and a place to put my stuff.

5

When I entered college freshman year my roommate was a Mick-Kraut. That’s what he told me within an hour of our meeting. He was from Cleveland and he was a Mick-Kraut. His mother was Irish and his father was German and that made him a Mick-Kraut. He was very proud of that and he wanted to know what I was. He wanted a word that he could call me. I told him I didn’t know, that I hadn’t thought about it. I told him I was American, from Northern New York, like all the people in my family before me. He said I needed to know where my family was from, and that Northern New York wasn’t good enough. I needed to know my heritage.

I called my parents the next day. I asked my dad what were we. I told him my roommate was a Mick-Kraut. My dad said he hadn’t really thought about it before. He said his mother’s side of the family was French-Canadian, but he didn’t know beyond that.

I met another kid from down the hall that next day. He said he was from Northern New York also. He said he was from Albany. I informed him that Albany was not Northern New York.

I met a girl a few days later who said she was from Westchester County. I told her I thought it was odd that she should refer to what county she was from rather than the town. I’d never heard that before. She thought it was strange that I thought that way. I didn’t get to know her very well.

My roommate and I had a room with a window just above the entrance to our dorm, Dablon Hall. We watched people come and go and we pointed out the people we had met, the girls we thought were cute, and the people we thought it was appropriate to make fun of. We made up nicknames for a lot of people. I remember:

Big Bird

The Good and Evil twins

Dark Crystal

Heavy Metal Girl

Jap Sue

There were others too. I remember my roomate called this one girl Jap Sue. I said I didn’t think she looked Japanese. He said no, she looked like a Jap, a Jewish American Princess. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I agreed with him and called her Jap Sue. She was very pretty. I thought she should have a different nickname, but I never came up with one for her.

6

As I said already, I Want to Believe Thoreau Before is a dream I had in Loveland, Colorado. I lived there in a barn with my then-girlfriend in the middle of forty acres with an unobstructed view of Long’s Peak and all the quiet and solitude a guy could hope for. Scraggly coyotes loped past our barn. Raptors floated past on six foot wide wings scanning the fields below. Pelicans stopped at the pond just on the edge of our property during their migration in the spring. If you walked toward them they would rise up and circle around and around until they rose so high they disappeared.

While we lived there some amazing things happened. Less than fifty miles away two high school boys took guns and bombs to school and shot up the place like a video game leaving many young bodies forever children. The president of the United States of America said he couldn’t understand how something like this could happen. He was dropping bombs on a bunch of people in the middle east like a video game as well. A little farther to the north in Wyoming a couple other kids took another boy on a ride out in the country and beat him up with a pistol and left him for dead hanging on a fence by the side of the road. This boy’s name was Matthew. He was gay, and a preacher from Kansas said he thought it was appropriate that Matthew got beat up with a pistol until he was dead because he was gay. This preacher also thought it was appropriate to go to Matthew’s funeral and carry picket signs which said things to that effect.

While we lived there I didn’t shoot or bomb or pistol-whip anybody. I didn’t picket any funerals. I rode my bicycle on long straight dirt roads surrounded by the hazy horizon. I tried to kill some fish with a small hook attached to a long fishing line by snagging them in the mouth and dragging them onto the shore of Carter Lake Resevoir, but they didn’t respond to the bait I used. In that regard I mostly sat on the edge of the water and Wanted to Believe in Thoreau Before.

The surface of the water might be like a mirror. Thoreau told me it was. Thoreau said it was a duplicitous world on the edge of the water, and that if I waded in to my mid-section I would be half a man, and yet again I would be more than one man.

7

In another time, Clayton, New York was the terminus of the New York Central Railroad which carried passengers from New York City to Clayton where they would then board boats bound for their summer homes on the islands. Clayton is also the geographic center of the Thousand Islands region of the American side of the St. Lawrence River. Clayton was home to dozens if not hundreds of incredible cottages, homes, castles, estates, hotels, and resorts for these New York City tourists in their top hats and bustles. In the first decades of the 20th century, before my grandmother was a little girl, most of the bigger and more incredible of these places, being wooden, burnt to the ground leaving just ashes, memories, and insurance checks. There are many fine photographs of Clayton in its hey-day dressed in fantastic wooden street fronts, but today it is mostly squat square strip mall architecture and modular homes.

My great-grandfather Henry Thibault was a boat builder in Clayton. This would have put him and his enterprise square in the middle of Prohibition. His brother had a bottling business during this time. As a kid I would find some of his old bottles on the edge of the water amidst the trash and seaweed.

One of Henry Thibault’s boats is housed in the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. Another is used as a passenger cruise boat in Lake Placid, New York, up in the Adirondacks.

Clayton, New York sits directly across the river about seven miles away from Gananoque, Ontario, Canada. During prohibition it would’ve been a quick boat ride for a case or two or more of whiskey from one side to the other with many routes between. Some people would bring their cases of whiskey across the river with some of the bottles unsealed and packed with salt. If there was a perceived sense of danger from the authorities, the cases could be thrown overboard to slowly drop to the floor of the River. Later when the salt had dissolved, the amber whiskey would rise again to the surface of the River where eager hands waited to pull it aboard and continue to Clayton. 

My grandmother refused to say whether she was aware of any business such as this. Her father built boats. End of story.

8

I grew up on the edge of town. A town of about 1,500 people. My house was the entrance to a world of pastures and trails and views of French Creek and the St. Lawrence River. Just down the road at the bottom of the hill was a stream that ran on to French Creek. I bicycled there and found old cans, turn them into boats and floated them on the stream. As I watched them float away I would lobb rocks at them and see if I could sink them before they left my sight.

One summer day there by the stream I found a small light blue pyramid shaped object with a delicate chain like a key chain dangling from it. The small end had a hole like the viewing hole on a kaleidoscope. I looked in and discovered a naked woman waiting for me in there. She was blonde and reclined with a red cloth draped over her stomach. Her full breasts stared back at me and between her legs I could see dark hair. Her blue eyes looked out from under heavy lids and told me she wanted me to continue to look, to look long and hard, to look and look and look and to not stop looking.

I looked for a long time and then I put the lookie thing under a rock where I could easily find it again. Many times that summer I coasted my bike down the hill to where the lookie thing was hidden. After a while, from being outside I suppose, the woman inside the lookie thing found herself wet and stained. She sort of wrinkled up and turned color as if she had been leaned onto her side and dipped into murky water and left there, unlooked after for too long.

Years later I wonder what happened to the lookie thing. The stream it sat next to is now funneled under the parking lot of a car wash. It disappears from view at the bottom of the slope down from Guardino Elementary School. It tunnels under James Street, under the Castle ice cream stand, under the car wash, under Wahl’s lot where boats are dry docked and then it glimpses sunlight again down in French Creek a few hundred yards away. So it’s still there, but not there. Sort of like the past.

9

I Want to Believe Thoreau Before was a dream I had in Loveland, Colorado. Before that it was just a faint scent, a glimmer of something I would sense around the corner, never able to see or hear or touch. I Want to Believe Thoreau Before was a bulb of garlic I planted in a coffee can full of soil when I was 23 and married the first time and sure that my young wife was the head of a conspiracy. A long green shoot emerged from that coffee can, but nothing more.

We had free cable in this apartment of ours. We could order pizza and chicken wings that would come in less than ten minutes. We had a perfect new little girl who bounced around like a ball. It was 1992 and the president of the United States had given up trying to kill Saddam Hussein for the time being. We had three remote controls, a microwave oven, digital music and this green shoot growing out of a coffee can. I had no idea what would come of the garlic, but I was positive my young wife was in charge of my suicide. She was hiding things on me and following me through Syracuse when she should be home with the girl. I began to make a list one day of what I would need to take with me when I left for the old Gribley farm. It wasn’t much. It looked like this:

Purdy (my Mazda 323 hatchback)

backpack

hatchet

knife

matches

fishing pole and tackle

pencil

notebook

sleeping bag

cooking pot

bottle of Jim Beam

The green sprout grew from the coffee can as if the garlic bulb down in the soil wanted to believe in Thoreau Before. It was a microcosm: the can, the soil, the garlic, the bright green dream that curved upward in the small second floor kitchen window against the backdrop of postage stamp backyards and above ground pools. When I or my young wife ran the garbage disposal the dream shook gently and even though we turned it every few days, it would always find the light and respond by leaning that way like the Belief in Thoreau Before.

One night in my little apartment there in Syracuse with my young wife and baby girl, I wrote a poem. I realized that my baby girl was holding her toy rubber Big Bird upright, face-front and staring into his eyes. They were looking at each other the way you and I might. She was lying on her back and holding the Big Bird the way I would. She ran her little miniscule finger along the Big Bird’s beak.

How did she know the appropriate way to face the Big Bird? What makes the eyes and beak the front? Why didn’t she speak into its ass? When did this happen?

I thought about the garlic, the bulb, in the can in the window. As much as I turned it, it still recognizes which way to face the sun. Actually, the sun pulled it, in a way. Somehow my baby girl was like the garlic growing in the window. A sun pulled her toward understanding. She can’t help but create sense of the world. The universe demands her, demands all of us to be a part of the process of creation. Haiku does the same thing, and I would obsess about that years later. It leaves enough to the imagination to demand you take part. Anything at all worthwhile, I thought, is like this. The world to my little girl was like this. The world to me was like this.

I wrote a short poem along these lines, that I no longer have a copy of. I wrote it on my electronic typewriter, a thing of beauty. It was blue and my grandmother had given it to me. Gentle keystrokes ushered solid claps of ink onto that cheap non-recycled paper I used while I held my baby girl up like a haiku, trying to figure which end was up. Moments of clarity were few then, but they came eventually and when they did I just sat back and watched the girl play.

10

I must have been around five when I got my first bike. It was a white Huffy with a Snoopy numberplate that said BARNSTORMER on it. I remember my grandmother thought it was too big for me. I remember I thought it made me a big kid.

My father took me out back behind our house to our open field of about a quarter acre. We walked up to the top of the field not far from where the poison ivy was. From there you could see down the hill to my Uncle Buster’s house. You could see the little stream where in the future I would find the lookie thing. You could see the creek and French Bay beyond it. I admired the view from atop my new throne. Two wheels, one behind the other. It seemed such good sense. When my father shoved me off I might as well have been falling down a ladder. Nothing was real. Everything I knew was gone in the 15 seconds or so it took me to get to the dirt road, to the beautiful ditch beyond it where gravity finally pulled me over and down on top of my white Huffy.

I took my white Huffy to bed with me and rode it all night to the dream of Thoreau Before where everything is followed by another of itself like two wheels, each keeping the other up. I rode it into a refrigerator full of baloney sandwiches with a glass of milk. I rode a complete fortress up and down my block with a heroic saddle and handlebars. I rode a novel in which a boy finds a huge tree, larger than any of its neighbors to hollow out and fill with eagles and rabbit fur underwear. I rode it to my first recognition of Thoreau Before.

11

A short bike ride from my home in Clayton, New York was the cemetery. When entering the town from the south, from Watertown and Interstate 81 and the world at large you are welcomed to town by the cemetery. There are actually two, one on each side of the road. I always thought that was a nice way to welcome guests, to parade them before the dead. The 30 MPH speed limit posted there stopped their 20th century eight-cylinder momentum, and the twin cemeteries stopped their charade that they are distanced from the past by more than their flesh and bones.

A lot of my family lived in the cemetery as I grew up a short bike ride away. My younger brother lived there in the ground because he died when I was young. I grew up walking around Clayton and he grew up sleeping below. I thought about that a lot as I grew up, and then at some point, in my early adolescence I imagine, I forgot.

On the other side of the road from my brother a lot of my grandparents relatives sleep in the long cold underground. Many of them were also children. On this side of the road the cemetery was full of tall trees, maples and poplars mostly. On the other side of the road, where my brother forever lay, no trees. On this side of the road, the cemetery was surrounded by a black wrought iron fence. On my brother’s side, no fence. On this side, old white stones with faded dates and names, tipped to the side irregularly, tall ornate monuments and a moss and lichen covered mausoleum. On my brother’s side, shiny new bright stones with crisp cursive inscriptions like:

Bevens

Steven

1972-1974

Around my brother’s grave were a few other stones with the Bevens name already carved in their polished faces. This was where my grandparents and aunts and uncle, my parents, and, I supposed, where I too would lay forever under the cold Clayton ground when we all stopped breathing and finally died. Sometimes I fantasized it wouldn’t come to that. That I alone, somehow had the mental capacity to deny death. I remember back then after Steven died I would lie in bed at night in the dark and think about death and how it came for him and not me. And now, more than wondering about him and who he would have become were he not 2 years old forever, I wonder who I would be were he still here. Had we grown up together. Had he challenged me and troubled me and pushed me and helped me. And worse still, is the impossibility of knowing.

Driving home from work one day I spy a seagull winging high overhead, just a silhouette in the blue sky. I wonder what keeps me from having been that bird. Perhaps long ago a choice of lunch kept me upright needing fingers and arms, and perhaps way before that, the desire to leave the water for whatever reason, food or sex, pulled me onto legs. When did I not become that gull?

12

Charlie Richard had a dream of a barn in Clayton, New York. Charlie Richard lay in bed in Rome, Georgia and listened to God. In his dream God told Charlie Richard to go to Clayton, New York and build a barn. God left Charlie to wake with the image of this barn on a flat piece of ground in front of a stand of sugar maples burning brightly in his mind. Charlie Richard got out of bed that day in the spring of 1980 and went straight to the map. He brought the map to his wife and said, We are going here, and he pointed his finger way up north of Rome, Georgia to the eastern-most tip of the eastern-most of the Great Lakes, where the St. Lawrence River takes billions of gallons of water every minute from vast Lake Ontario. We are going to Clayton, New York and we are going to build a barn. The tenor of his voice left no room for argument. His wife began packing immediately.

Charlie Richard and his family moved into the house across the street from mine when I was in 6th grade. I didn’t see him much until he was finished with the barn. He was an overly friendly neighbor. He convinced my parents to send me to bible camp with his son Timmy, who I didn’t like too much. Timmy was quick to remind me not to take the Lord’s name in vain whenever I said, Oh God, which was quite often, I remember.

At one point at bible camp after we had made some craft out of colored yarn and sticks we kids were assembled into a group and we were told that it was time to give our lives to Jesus who died for us.

I thought there is something unnatural about a young boy being asked to give his life away, for Christ’s sake. It reminded me of the business in catechism class where old Monsenieur Hannan asked me to tell him my sins, not believing I had none. I’m just a little boy, I said. He fed me a line about original sin or some nonsense. I told him about the creepy man across the street from me who had built the most beautiful barn I’d ever seen. He asked instead to hear of something bad I’d done. I told him about the Gribley Farm and the hollowed out tree and the winter I survived there. He asked about my family. I told him the sky was green like little monsters. He asked about the children at school. I told him the hydrogen jukebox collected opinions of the moon.

13

I woke this morning from a dream of Thoreau. I dreamt we worked together as landscapers on a large alphabet. The alphabet was owned by a Lebanese man named Husni. A through Z upper case and lower case and small caps as well. It was humanist with bold serifs and a fairly heavy modulation in the curves of its lettershapes. Mowing was sort of a pain, but neither Thoreau nor I mowed, so it didn’t bother us too much. Husni was interested in the construction of italics, the numbers 0 through 9, as well as analphabetic symbols, punctuation, and ligatures for the appropriate letters, such as ft, ff and ffi, etc. It was a very thorough garden alphabet, and it kept us challenged and engaged.

Thoreau told me once that the mass of men and women go to the grave with their song still in them, but we would empty ourselves of our song at this alphabet, Husni said. I was very excited about the job. Of all the jobs I had done in my dream, & all the travels I had made around the country in my dream, I had never had the opportunity to landscape an alphabet so complete and well preserved. A few serifs were broken, and 70 years worth of pigeons had made a mess out of the capital K. But that was to be expected. The soil on a whole sucked. We would need to excavate yards and yards of this heavy mineral laden soil and bring in some new stuff with lots of organic matter.

When I woke I was having lunch with Thoreau. We were sitting in our Ford F-250 listening to public radio and all of a sudden I was lying in bed needing to pee.

14

In the third grade in Mrs. MacDonald’s class we read a book about a boy who lived on an island out in the middle of the vast blue sea. The book had pictures showing him tanned and shirtless, playing on the white beach under tall palm trees. I liked the book and the pictures, but when I closed the cover, it all vanished. I had yet no idea I Wanted to Believe in Thoreau Before. All these years later as I sit on this leather couch in Seattle I wonder why I put that book away. That island boy was pinned to my mind back then, and still is. A version of that boy. Why do some things stay and some things go? A cloud that sits on the blue sky, is it the same cloud from one moment to the next? That’s not the question I care about. The question I care about is where did that island go when I put the book down? Why did Mrs. MacDonald not tell me I Wanted to Believe in Thoreau Before? Or did she?

15

My brush with fame.

It was a Friday night and we were at the Koffee Kove having Friday night fish fry. Some Fridays my dad would grab the styrofoam clamshell containers of fish fry and bring it home, and some Fridays we would go down to the Koffee Kove and sit there and eat. Golden brown fish of unknown origin, french fries, lemon wedge, coleslaw.

This Friday night we sat at the Koffee Kove and ate. I wanted a hamburger. I remember asking for a hamburger and my dad telling me that it was Friday and we were having fish. But I didn’t want fish, I wanted a hamburger. My dad explained that on Friday’s we didn’t eat meat. I asked why. He said it was a rule and that on Friday’s we didn’t eat meat. I asked again, But why? He said it was a church rule and it’s a form of fasting to remind us of how Jesus fasted in the desert before he was sacrificed. I didn’t understand why Jesus would care whether or not I had a hamburger and I told him so. Dad said that it’s one night a week and to just stop with the questions and enjoy my fish fry.

I really wanted to eat a hamburger even more at that point. I don’t remember what my mother and father must have been talking about.

At the other end of the room a man stood up and began walking toward us. He wasn’t alone, but I only remember him. He had shaggy, curly dark hair and wore an army-green jacket. His eyes were intense, dark, deepset. He looked unlike any one I had ever seen before, lanky, wild and unkempt. He moved through the dining room as if he owned the place, completely at ease. Vibrantly. As he came toward me I locked eyes with him, and he reached out his hand toward me and let it settle on my head where he tousled my hair. Good looking kid, he said, I think I remember. I turned and watched him walk out of the small restaurant.

I asked, who was that? My father replied in a low tone, Abbie Hoffman. Abbie Hoffman, I repeated aloud.

16

We were all afraid of the nose-stitcher. The nose-stitcher would wait just until we’d forgotten about it, and then it would roll into our young worlds again, scattering us like marbles hitting a wooden floor.

We kids might be playing a game of tag when we’d hear the roar of its motor come around a corner. “The nose-stitcher!” one of the kids would yell and we’d run frantically. Or we might be riding our bicycles on the town tennis court when one of us would spy it at the other end of the park and scream, “Nose-stitcher!” It had a rotating yellow light flashing on its top which helped alert us of its impending terror, of the doom it brought, of the unknown pain it might deliver. Though sometimes we’d be so focused on, say the snow fort we were building in some kid’s yard that we’d be completely taken by surprise, and about fall over each other, screaming, “The nose-stitcher! The nose-stitcher!” as it would approach, roaring, yellow light flashing, it’s huge gaping bucket of a mouth rising up in front of it monstrously.

One day, Freddy Bertrand and I stumbled across the nose-stitcher while it slept. Its light did not flash, its roar absent. It was just sitting there in the dark barn across the street from the Lion’s Field behind mountains of dirt. We were riding our bicycles when we decided to ride over and around the dirt, to make a race track out of the huge piles. To make a big dirt jump and fly over a gap between two smaller piles like Evel Knievel I suppose. As we rounded the corner nearest the nose-stitcher’s cave we both saw it at the same time and skidded to a halt. We looked at each other, then back at the sleeping yellow and white beast. It didn’t move. One of us said “Wow.” The daylight only landed on the front right of its enormous gaping bucket of a mouth which rested politely on the ground, the rest of it was covered in shadowy darkness. Where the sun hit the thick fangs protruding from its jaw we could see the scars of prior attacks. After a time we approached it, cautiously. The teeth weren’t sharp, they were blunt, were more like thick fingers than knives. 

We lay our bicycles on the soft brown dirt in front of that shadowy cave and walked right up to that nightmare of our childhoods and touched it. That was the bravest I ever felt when I was a small boy.

To be continued…

Published by pedalpoet

Poet, writer, and songwriter living in Seattle, WA

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