Breaking, broken, gone

I saw it coming. I could have done something about it.

G’s discovered how to pop open the only working tape deck in our house, and he’s tall enough to reach it. I watched him get his grubby little paws all over the mix tape I had made during my time as a student in England. The future of that cassette was not really so unclear. I just imagined I could stay on top of him. I told myself I’d always be in the room when he was, that I would teach him to keep his hands off. Right. Just like I teach him to stay out of John’s Japanese garden in the back yard. It’s beautiful, it really is, but some days I feel like its sole purpose is to furnish me with another reason to yell at my kids. I hate hearing myself yell at my kids. I’m sure the neighbors don’t enjoy it much either. “Stay out of Daddy’s garden Gabriel!—Gabriel, stay on the path! Off the serpent mound Jonah! Walk on the BRIDGE!”

England was a big deal for me. Something shifted. The distance from all things familiar, the weather, the walking, the color of the light (and yes, the beer) all had something to do with it. The thing about that tape was, it helped me remember things. That collection of songs (several of which now annoy the heck out of me) was a kind of trigger, a reminder of a person I sometimes forget I am. I’m not going to go on about that, because everything that comes to mind to say seems trite and sentimental (though my good friend Andrew would say that being sentimental has its virtues). I will say I met one of my dearest friends over there in Cheltenham, and I still keep in contact with the couple I lived with, who have moved to Australia (five minutes from a national park turtle rookery) and have a room waiting for us if ever we can scrape together the money.

After a valiant offer from John to untangle, splice and copy it (after a surprising flood of angry tears on my part), I resigned myself to its demise. Lucky for me, John wrote a poem that considers this very sort of loss. Lucky for me, poems don’t break. Usually.


I Forsee the Breaking of All That Is Breakable

Perhaps after all it is, merely, a desire
to use the word thanatopsical
but if you can wash or handle
artifacts like this blue
tea mug, carried from Crete as a gift
from a friend, or this nacreous
orange bowl,
a honeymoon souvenir
bought in a now-defunct artists’
shop in Colorado, or
this antique Chinese mudman
carrying his sponges
and fish from a day at the pier,
without a pathological
fixation on the day you will stumble
and drop it, or smack it
against the sink divider or brush
it with a hand reaching
for the letter opener, you are junzi:
a superior person, as Confucius had it.
You probably make love
to your spouse without imagining
betrayal and pay taxes
without complaint
because you think nothing
in truth belongs to you.

They invented the earth for people
like you, and then salted it.

John Estes, from Kingdom Come

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