Putting together a sort of book of my poetry to submit to the US Copyright Office, I came across this old poem, which I wrote when my son was 8—rather than 17 and soon to go off to college! The poem was right when I wrote it, and it continues to feel right.
Last summer I took my son on a “service trip” —
To help with some trail work along a stream in a forest in Utah.
One day we got up late and over breakfast Jonah wanted to finish a rather long book;
It was midday by the time we headed up from the camp to join the others.
I was delighted by the butterflies flitting in the sunlight along the trail.
As is my wont I proposed to Jonah that we count how many species we saw.
He had little interest in this. I counted six species, I believe.
I recalled this today, a year later, when I took Jonah on a hike above a Belgian tourist town.
We were crossing between fields, past a few cows, haying, blackberry bushes, communication towers.
We had been visiting battle sites and Jonah was pretending he was fighting enemies along the trail —
Throwing pine-cone grenades, machine-gunning, bazooking, being joined by the Prussian cavalry.
I had to do some shooting too and had to hand him time-bombs and landmines from out of my backpack.
I began to notice all the butterflies — in one row of low bushes there was a swarm such as I had never seen before.
I said to Jonah that this was one of my favorite things — for all I do not do it very often:
Walk on a path in the country in the summer and see the butterflies and wildflowers.
As we were heading back to the car to go take him to an archery range
We heard a lone bird singing hidden in a tree.
First I and then Jonah spent some time trying to imitate the bird’s call.
We saw a black caterpillar trying to make its way across the path.
With a stick Jonah toyed with it and spoke warmly of its fuzziness.
We saw two horses standing motionless between their turds and an empty water trough.
One of them — it was as if he had a disease or had been crying sweet tears —
Flies swarmed one of side of his face, his eyelids, his eye.
To me the torture was all the worse because the horse seemed to have accepted that there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.
Jonah said he didn’t think the horse minded the flies.
As we were starting down the steepest slope I told him about how it is usually harder to hike down than up,
Particularly if you are middle-aged and hobbled by a broken ankle like me.
Jonah said that for him (8 years old) going down was easy.
(Later he admitted his thighs hurt.)
At the range he didn’t want his Papa to give him any instruction — not that I’m an expert archer.
When the repeated snap of the bowstring began to hurt his fingers
I wrapped them with electrical tape so he could keep on shooting.
Text and drawing-collage by William Eaton
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