I, Too, Once Fished the Tidal Pool



I, too, once fished the tidal pool,

pulled passive flounder from the deep

to leaky boat of faded blue.

I, too, once sought the sun, the air,

clean, clear, bright, the light that gives us

hope, trust, joy in life, each daily quest.


With head of yellow curls, perched up

second-story stairs, three years old,

saw, with quaintly serious mien,

passing worlds below; ice cream cup

I spooned into my thoughtful mouth.

A park, mom, dad, friend old man Mac,

who later died, non compos mentis,

burned, sitting on a radiator,

not strong, unable to get up.


I searched the mysterious way

of the crystal set, companion

in wakeful pre-World War II nights;

fulfillment in fantasy, music,

sound; noise from the distant ether,

cosmos, perhaps, far-reaching,

beyond knowledge, expectation.


Bring mysteries of radio

from around the world, through earphones,

in our family's troubled darkness.

Heard my parents fight.  Soft, running

bathtub water from another

room, some way oddly comforting.  


I filled jars with colored water,

red, green, yellow, blue, and set them

in my basement window, stained glass,

for sunlight to shine richly through;

made cities of Arizona

mud, towers of caliche clay,

moved molded cars through streets of earth.


Went from asphalt play yard, walled in

California, to acres

of open, raw dirt, kid-battered

remnants of worn Bermuda grass

in Arizona; huge release

from foggy prison; revelation.

Early in the war, two sisters

united their families, in case

Uncle Lewie, married to Eula,

the oldest of three good brothers,

was called to fight.  In his thirties,

he was deferred by age, wife, kids,

but tough Jim and Clem, unattached,

marched away to serve their nation.


I played the games of childhood, youth,

that energetic children play,

thinking they fulfill important

destinies, expressing themselves

as virile men they'll one day be.

I climbed the chinaberry tree,

carved initials, my nickname deep

through leaking white wood, later years

that swelled to heal such childish wounds,

made deciphering hard to see.


Rescued a dove, Sonoran dove,

tiny, that limped in gasping flight,

BB wound round and raw, gaping

in its buff-grey, afflicted breast.

But, I, too, shot my share of birds

by slingshot; carved a wooden Y

from the dark oleander bush,

somehow obtained old inner tubes

at a filling station, I cut

in strips to propel my stones, held

in a leather tongue from a shoe.


(With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto...)


When World War II, I recovered

old newspapers, flattened tin cans,

pulled my wagon, bought saving stamps;

nickels, dimes my mother gave me.

Covered with eagles, hateful faces,

Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini.

"Step on a crack, break Hitler's back."

"Jack Armmmstrong, the Alll Amerrr-iiican Boyyyy."


(the daring and resourceful...)


Radio adventure programs,

conceived in the 1930s,

continued, in war, on the home-front.

Needed age of helpful sidekicks...

buddy in muddy jungle trails,

holes hacked from frozen Europe's soil,

pilot, co-pilot, B-17s.

Someone sharing bloody travail,

hard questions of savagery, death.


(masked rider of the plains...)


Fellow actor to by-play with,

allow dialogue in a script...

Batman, Robin; The Green Hornet

and his trusted valet, Cato;

Red Ryder with Little Beaver;

The Shadow, lovely Margo Lane.

By far the greatest of them all,

gripping, lyrical, poetic...

stirring symphonic intervals...

The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Silver.

Divine nature disguised to hide,

safeguard dazzled humanity,

that intense luminosity

might not blind.  "Who was that masked man?"


(led the fight for law and order...)


A mythic figure, Apollo,

sun-god's flame in the Golden West;

justice, redeemer, Jesus Christ,

armed with magic, silver bullets,

extensions of divinity;

astride a luminous white steed,

fiery horse with the speed of light,

winged Pegasus from ancient deed,

transcendence; man's evil vanquished.


(in the early western United States.)


Ten, twelve years old, I collected

Army unit patches.  Where I

got them, I don't know.  Two uncles

warred on Pacific islands, Marines;

Okinawa, Guadalcanal;

Jim shot in his right forearm,

twisted, shortened an inch or two,

Jap sniper-shattered, missing bone.

Young Clem fought from filthy foxholes

for months, just nineteen – an old, old man –

fired past tangled, high-piled bodies,

surviving mass Banzai attacks,

screaming, machine guns, hand grenades.

The first desperate year of the War.


(Nowhere in the pages of history...)


I covered my Levi jacket,

front and back, with insignia

-- stained glass jars of tinctured water --

colorful, peacock proud display,

parading luminosity,

divinity's identity.

I glued a Squirt soft drink sticker

to the front fender of my bike.

How far is this from tatooing,

the aborigine who hangs

chrome-bright hubcaps from his neck?


(can one find a greater champion of justice.)


Saw countless movie Japs grimace

in agonized cockpits riddled

by vengeance-bound Americans,

flyers in P-41s,

P-47 Thunderbolts,

sleek, twin-fuselaged P-38s.

John Wayne was there.  Saw Wake Island

fall, Bataan.  In real life, helpless,

kneeling prisoner heads hacked off

by arrogant Samurai swords.


(Return with us now...)


A grieving mother, known to us,

published his journal, her captured

civilian son, construction man,

trapped on Wake by the Japanese

invasion.  He was forced to build

their fortifications; three years

later, starved to death, transported

near war's termination, Japan.

Sadism, treachery, cruelty

know no bounds; like things biblical,

the earth...no beginning, no end.


(to those thrilling days of yesteryear.)


On single sheets of large paper,

my brother and I drew pictures,

great air battles, sky-filled struggle.

He drew one side, I the other,

each hiding our aircraft placement,

aim of their guns.  When finished, we

drew lines of fire which missed or hit,

intercepted each other's planes,

relishing vigorously drawn

bullet paths, flaming explosions.


In hot desert heat, I played in

cooling irrigation ditches,

languid, muddy-bottomed streams,

scorpions lurking in thick grass,

in coarse shade of cottonwood trees.

Promiscuous, laughing minnows

flaunted white bellies at a fierce,

insistent sun, ferocious, known

to them only as appealing,

endearing light, a high, strange realm

far from their own.  Lucid, mounting

magnificence that overlay

the shadow of their umber world,

cowling of luminosity.


I, too, flew kites -- some homemade -- feared

losing them (who cares, silly boy?)

in competition with strong winds,

extended over distant, famished

neighborhoods on dubious string.

As if I might lose some morsel

of myself in mysterious,

wind-borne quest, should threatened, slim strand

snap, and kite slip in sidling fall,

lose its contest with hard, blue sky,

disappear behind far rooftops,

badly injured red diamond-bird,

species unknown from brilliant skies.


I clutched the bulky eight-inch stick

with crisscrossed twine so tautly linked

to tugging, wind-plowed, prodded kite,

tail made of heavy, girded cloth,

that pinned it tightly in the air,

not diving in stiff winds, but which

light breezes might not take aloft.


Yet, some kites, no matter what you

did, would fall in great looping dives,

in series, one, then another,

plunging ever farther earthward,

unless more tense, terse cord paid out,

buying moments, only slowing

gyrations, which ultimately

must be reckoned with; no more string

wrapped around the stick, but final

knotted turn kept the leaning kite

anchored in the harbor of my fist.


(From out of the past...)


I early felt life's poetry,

but, of course, did not call it that;

lark's fluted, poignant song from weedy

desert field beyond barbed-wire fence

that bordered road of dirt, dust, stones,

soccer-kicked ahead, thrown pebbles

testing patient telephone poles.

As today, when I watch and hear

young instrumentalists expound,

mesh deep souls of great composers

with their own; their need of beauty

conjoins fine art, bird, tree, rock, star,

the feeling in our hearts, warm light;

despite horrors of man, god's world.


(come the thundering hoof beats...)


I lived my life in dream, the world

of nature, without extensive

companionship; there were few friends.

None my age, boy or girl, dwelled there

on my house-sparse, road-graded road.

Later, escape from fearsome contact

with troubling world, humanity,

an ultimate need, instinctive,

at war with, but beyond the claims

of fellowship that loneliness

might have bought, made living fruitful.

I grew alone, in emptiness,

a family fearful of feeling,

too much dangerous emotion,

withheld, unexamined, unexpressed.


(of the great horse, Silver.)


Inward, solitary, with few

available social skills;

by parents unprepared for life,

but by omission, absence, loss.

While necessarily tribal,

smiling, to outward appearance,

during the tribal years of youth

-- part of me thought of me that way --

when that harsh, sad time came to pass,

army barrack life come and gone,

I sought as much to be alone

with art, my wife, our life, the dog.

Survival in grey man's brown world.


(The Lone Ranger rides again!)


Maple, oak, ash, elms immense,

alive, rejoice in sun and wind

in summer foliage fullness, green;

burning autumn, gleaming orange;

winter muscled trunks and reaching limbs;

young spring's return, eternal life.

Help farmer bring in humid hay

on afternoons before the rain.


There are stars, in the darkness, vast

distance, the void; constellations.

Orion, Taurus, Leo,

faint light of slight, brief Rigel,

Regulus, Aldebaran,

triangle of Betelgeuse,

Sirius and Procyon...

dutiful hunter, his dogs.


I, too, once fished the tidal pool;

once lived, like ancient Roman, Greek;

worked, painted, played, heard the sad creak

of crickets dying in the fall,

piercing song of peepers vivid

from summer pond; saw ice and snow

crusty in the field, breathed sharp air,

miraculous, with lungs now filled

by dirt and worms, or turned to ash.


I once was here on gracious earth.

I saw the rising of the sun.


("Come on, Silver; let's go, big fellow.

Hi ho, Silver...Away!")


Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Poems