Mistakes made by children displaying their love
When I was nine years old I spent
most Saturdays with my grandparents.
Talking with Nana in her open kitchen
as she rolled her lardy scone-like biscuits
out on the yellow pine-board island.
As they gilded themselves in her black
high oven, we sat on the wrought iron
porch couch looking out at the yard.
She sipped her coffee and gestured
at the small concrete pool, shaped
like a shell, that stood beneath
the spreading lemon-scented magnolia.
A small naked boy relieved himself
into the brackish water, his tiny concrete
penis stirring the raccoon scat left behind
their late-night ablutions. I will never
understand the Victorians.
My nana blew steam away from the cup
and said, in an afterthought, ‘Tonight
would be perfect, if I had some frogs.
I so love their music. It’s almost like singing.’
In the very early morning, before church,
while the sky was still dark and my grandfather
had already selected the roses he left every day
by the phone for his wife, we got into the car
and drove to Desoto. Three miles from the house,
a small mangrove park, the very place (a small
placard assured us) that the conquistadores
had landed, dragging their horses and armor
through thick clouds of mosquitoes, sky-clawing
roots, and endless rich-scented mud.
My grandfather walked three loops
around the boardwalk, scattering
hermit crabs that scuttled slowly away
from his feet. They were still so cold.
So were the frogs, or the several
I gathered. Fat and blinking, they barely
stirred their long legs as I shoved them
into my empty can of Maxwell’s coffee,
when I had enough, close packed but still
able to move relatively comfortably,
I closed the perforated plastic lid.
The dawn fully rose and we slid back
into the Buick, leather seats springy
against my bare legs. I was unused
to opulence, easily distracted, we talked
about Jacob and his love for a woman
he had to work hard for. Past the trees
that my grandfather shaped into topiary cones,
the car reseated itself into the garage. We went
in to breakfast. Grits I could not touch, sausages
I could, buttered toast, fried apples, last night’s
biscuits, a sole scrambled egg. A quick bath
downstairs, after which Nana ran her nose
down my left arm to ensure my use of soap.
I got dressed quickly, in yellow starched
so thoroughly by my foster-mother that it burned
against my skin like a Medea-made shirt. Back
in the car, rear seated this time; I fell asleep
on the drive. It took forty-minutes.
After the service, when the sun had baked
on the cars for three hours, I went home
with my father, crammed with my siblings
in the rear of his used two-door, sky-blue, Mitsubishi.
I fell asleep then, too, wedged between the back
of Dad’s chair and the burning hot wall.
I woke with a fever, spent two days curled
on the floor with my dogs, reverted to t-shirts
and short-pants. I vaguely knew that Nana had called,
I remember my dad speaking, apologizing,
he hung up the phone, laughing.
It was years before she mentioned it to me,
though the next time I drove with her
in her plush car I wondered about that
terrible smell. The frogs I gathered for her
had died in the trunk, doubly cooked
by the lid and their metal can. It was
three days before my grandfather found
them. They never did get rid of the smell.
Afterwards things progressed between
us in much the same way that they always had;
but Nana was a little more careful with
the things that she told me. She knew the limits
of my love. I had wanted, for a time,
to be a veterinarian; ignorant
of my tendency for mutilation.
Nana was very supportive when
my vocation came upon me,
and I turned my hand to this.