During a hiding
game at a back-yard barbeque party,
the summer of my twelfth birthday,
my father and his professor friends
load up on burgers and martinis.
All the neighborhood children are here,
anyone who will play.
They hide themselves under bushes, behind trash cans,
narrow the lines of their shoulders into doorframes
as the darkness grows opaque and the adult laughter rises,
soaring with drink and daring.
I find a hiding spot in short grass and lie down in it,
invisible, glad to see my companions vanish into connecting yards,
hear their voices grow more faint as they call my name
less often. I flatten my body against the planet,
spread my arms wide, feel it arc under my hands,
hang suspended in gravity, empty,
neither up nor down, a speck of dust in encompassing stars,
a theory of consciousness insubstantial as an atom.
I am nothing. Then I open my head and take in the ballooning universe.
Comprehending all, I am all,
sufficient in myself.
Now, at forty-eight, humbled by this lesson that so long ago
I taught myself, I lie awake in insomniac hours,
examining my neglect of its message
for specters of petty yearnings.
Desire, my oldest enemy, closes in,
flattening my vision.
A collapsing telescope, it focuses ever less acutely
on the fractures in my lazy and feeble history.
The night after my father’s party I dream the moon is falling.
A radio program tracks its progress loudly as our teachers
herd us toward the bomb shelters.
I duck through queues of children.
I must find my father although I understand
I will not reach him and it does not matter.
The moon plasters the night sky, its landscape pocked
and craggy with experience.
I lie down in a patch of grass to wait out the voice of the newscaster.
It counts seconds one by one until impact.
The truth is no search will bring you closer,
no logic nor patience, no tears.
The decision, as nearly always, is a moral one:
to consent to the terrible and wondrous
laws of leave-taking.
COLLEEN M. PAYTON is a graduate of the University of Chicago and has taught college writing, literature and humanities throughout her years as a writer. Her poetry has appeared in both literary journals and popular magazines including The King’s English, Bluestem and Oklahoma Today. Ms Payton writes features and reviews – generally on topics related to the arts – for Atlanta Magazine, Dance Magazine, Native Peoples and other publications. A work of scholarship, “The Stage as Battleground: Opera, Ballet and Gender Politics in the Age of Giselle” will appear in February 2013, in the Journal of the Colloquium on the Revolutionary Era.