At dusk on the sandy path between granite ridges
and hemlock trees, we were running together
— I was ten, clumsy and no athlete
(my sister could fall asleep in a straddle split),
but after the patient months you’d kept me going
I could follow this old two-mile loop
and talk and still breathe lightly all the way.
Dad, you spoke aloud Whose woods these are …
in the sweet air and scuff of last year’s leaves
you were telling me many ways to read
the last lines, miles to go before I sleep.
I had not seen it — the man who wrote them
as easily cut off or lost to frost
as a stem in the mat of trailing arbutus,
white stars lightly strung from a glacial erratic.
You showed me words taking new directions
— when dark and deep were sandy soil and tree roots
underfoot, and it was an unknown thing
to be out on the trails as night came
and to breathe in a strengthening body
beginning to be no longer a small child.
You were there and I ran freely, and I love you
for spring nights and the names of wildflowers
and all the night trails I have faced since then
knowing the sweetness of mayflower in bloom.
A lot of my writing this week is coming back to my family. I was listening to Jeff Nunokawa at Williams College this afternoon, as he read and talked about essays about his own childhood, and I remembered running with my dad in the woods at the end of our street. I owe as many wildflower names to my mom, who has most recently showed me trailing arbutus and walks with me in the woods whenever I’m home, as my dad gets me into the garden to plant snapdragons. But my dad got me running back in the day, and thinking about Robert Frost. I stll know that poem by heart.
Prompts: From the 30/30 challenge, “birthmark,” which started me thinking about family and roots … and from NaPoWriMo, a flower … The photo at the top shows Tony Abbott (my dad) and Laura Abbott (my sister, who can probably still fall asleep in a straddle split, because she’s amazing that way), and it was taken by Deborah Abbott (my mom).