Always I have kept a Special Box,
a box made Special by the items inside
flowing with Meaning and Memory.
The Box itself has changed, moved
from house to house—
it has always been made of cardboard
along the away I threw some Special items
into the dumpster
when their Meaning had dissipated
and I could discern no further use for them,
Special or mundane.
But I've kept my Papa Hat, in true Papa spirit—
he was one for taking things out of dumpsters,
not putting them in.
Back then I worshiped my ancestors.
I worshiped Papa, and though
he died young
while I was in Mrs. Johnston's kindergarten class,
like the rest, like every last god and goddess,
it turned out he was less deserving
of worship than I thought—
the fishing hat, my Papa Hat,
was Special from the beginning
because He gave it to me
and I worshiped him
and Jeremy and I venerated and kept well
the tokens he bestowed upon us his from his travels
in the dumpster, and the fishing hat—
I don't know if it came from a dumpster or not—
it was just like his, but in my size. It was all mine.
It was of Papa. It smelled like Papa.
It may have come from a dumpster.
Just like Papa.
Just like Papa.
Just like Papa
in most photos, in most depictions of that Age
I wear my Papa Hat
exploring the National Parks,
exploring forests and rivers and waterfalls,
exploring the public parks of Royal Oak, Michigan,
the grandiose oaks yet standing from bygone Ages,
indifferent to the fleeting, insignificant lives of humans,
raining down their acorns
upon the hapless travelers below,
exploring the backyards of the parsonages,
exploring the secret nooks and crannies,
the labyrinthine basements and attics
of the sprawling church complex
yonder beyond the vast parking lot,
exploring archaeological sites
on the Manitou Islands,
full of Meaningful artifacts
that must never be disturbed,
exploring Northern Michigan,
the Great Up'North where I now live,
exploring California, where Jeremy now lives—
and in most depictions of that Age
I wear a shy smile, my lips sealed tight
even though in those days
I still had a full set
of straight young teeth. I had yet to learn shame
for the jack-o'-lantern smile
that had yet to grow in, partly,
but I smiled with my lips sealed anyway—
I don't know why.
to keep my smile.
in my darkest hour,
depression and mania
wildly, dangerously mixed
in a moon-long storm of cruel self-effacement
and hurried, bitter iconoclasm—
my favorite babysitter
told me a story
of my self—
she remembered while I had forgotten
myself in the kitchen, a young child.
I wanted to show her something, I told her,
I led her to the kitchen
of the old parsonage, long gone now,
the site paved over,
I wanted to show her
my favorite stone
in the pattern of the linoleum kitchen floor.
At parent-teacher conferences,
Mrs. Johnston, my first grade teacher by then
told my parents
the important things—
whenever it was my turn
to read to the class
I could barely get through a story.
I could not stop laughing
these books were so funny!
O Mrs. Johnston—
an ancestor is anyone
living or dead,
good or evil,
naive or wise,
who made me
who I am.
Melissa and Mrs. Johnston
those were the stories
that needed to be kept forever.
So I keep the Papa Hat.
I keep the Papa Hat
though my head has grown
too large most days.
My Papa Hat still smells like Papa
but also like my self
so naive and so wise, that boy whose smile
and storied adventures in a bigger world
so fresh and so full of old wonders
made me who I am.