There was that time last year, camping, when the unthinkable happened. I forgot Isaac's books. Nothing for the bedtime ritual. No Piggy Wiggy Firefighter. No Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. No “Chapter IV, in which it is shown that Tiggers don't climb trees.” No poems like “It is widely known/That grown prianhas/Are long on teeth/But short on manners.” (“The Piranhas” from In the Swim).
And so I did the only thing I could think of. I read him my books. One of the books I happened to have with me was Billy Collins' Sailing Alone Around the Room. I was grateful to have the king of colloquial verse with me, the man that can turn the most mundane of things into poignant stories that look like poems. And so I carefully picked a few and preread, hoping to engage my then-four-year-old in the ways of the word.
I read him “Morning.” It's a poem is about how the speaker likes mornings. Not too complex, I reasoned. And if on the way my son hears phrases like “night with his notorious perfumes, his many-pointed stars” well then, so much the better.
I read him “Walking Across the Atlantic” (“I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach/before stepping onto the first wave.//Soon I am walking across the Atlantic/thinking about Spain/checking for whales, waterspouts...”) Imaginative, funny even. My boy has a sense of humor.
I even tried a bit of “Afternoon with Irish Cows” and “Fishing the Susquehanna in July,” the latter perhaps to follow on the ocean theme. All the while, Isaac snuggled in his new orange sleeping bag blinking quietly, trying to make sense of his mother's odd habits.
I imagine the scene often enough: Two decades have passed. A jaunty 20-something sprawls with his lunch on the grass, a backpack close at hand, a few others of his kind lounging in the new spring air. A bridge in view, a cafe or two, a small car goes rumble-bump over the cobblestone.
And as he takes a bite out of an apple, this grown Isaac tells his friends “Yeah, when I was growing up, my mom was always reading poems, poems on the refrigerator at our house. I launched my Lego space ships from a fat pile of them on the coffee table. I thought every house was filled with words, fed on metaphor.”
“Did she make you write them?” a pretty girl with cropped red hair will throw out.
Grown Isaac shrugs, chews his apple.
And somewhere inside his grown and growing heart, this Isaac of the future will know that there in that scene he is inside his very own poem.