Indianapolis Makes Peace with Me: a Haibun

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I was feeling cynical from living grid-locked in a city spelunking so far below the poverty line. I took a walk and passed children on blacktop with sidewalk chalk in hand. Underprivileged kids— if clothes, or a bed to call your own, or a father can be called a privilege.

I made my way to a park, passing kids playing pick-up baseball—kids who can’t quite reach the lowest rung on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but still manage to find time to enjoy themselves.

I proceeded past a couple girls making a wish on a dead dandelion. Where there should’ve been hope and joy, I saw an invasive species and an old wives’ tale.

Superstition ensured
the weeds would spread
as children blew through ghastly heads.

I came to a playground and took my seat on a swing.

And there, suspended in air, swinging like a pendulum between love and hate for the place that I live, the city said it’s sorry:

For not being more conscious of itself. For teeming with cocksure gangsters in ’97 pimped-out Cutlasses, their seats slid back, one hand atop the steering wheel, feeling like the king of the world.

For the middle-aged men on Mopeds because they’ve got DUIs. For the fact that they drive in bike lanes, passing lanes, and sidewalks indiscriminately, always at 35-miles-per-hour.

For the stench of ammonia rising up through the ceilings of two-bedroom apartments and heroin needles strewn across tall-grass where children play.

For the morbidly obese, the ramshackle houses, for miles of industrial blight and the ratchet white girls with bad tattoos. For dirt-poor, underserved neighborhoods named after Parishes, such as Holy Cross and Little Flower.

For all this, the city says it’s sorry.

For not living
the way Christ said we should.
The Great Omission.

Forgive me, the city says. Forgive me and I’ll reward you with sunny afternoons and strolls through Ellenberger Park. With the sound of children laughing as they climb the jungle gym and snack on Takis.

I’ll reward you with charter schools where white kids learn to shout “aquí!” when they’re open in two-hand-tap football in the schoolyard. I’ll reward you with the Pour House, where the homeless are fed and clothed.

With a thriving jazz scene, and Book Mama’s and Irvington Vinyl. With rich cuisine at oddly named restaurants: “Bluebeard” and the “Slippery Noodle” and “Milktooth,” and with a world-class racetrack.

The city says it’s sorry
offers up its charms
Apology accepted: I take it in my arms.

Maternal Charades (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I walked in on my wife
playing charades.
Our children didn’t know
they were part of the game.
Some days, she didn’t know either.

TWO WORDS

Rubbing together two needles
like the legs of a cricket,
she conjures hats, scarves,
amigurumi monsters
the children take to bed.

FIRST WORD: MATERNAL

If I squint it looks like ritual,
the tedium of bedtime routine:
overnight diaper, dinosaur jammies
read two books and brush your teeth.
Boys to the bunkbeds, girl to the crib.

SECOND WORD: LOVE

Golden curls encircle
lavender bubbles;
soap-soaked fur of a
labrador doodle.
This is love by proxy.

Care for the children
through care for the dog
bought for them to care for.
A pantomime, an acting out
of the second word.

MATERNAL LOVE

This motherhood is a lifelong game of charades.
The children have an inkling, I think,
that the swabbing of walls stained with crayon,
and the meticulous slicing of hotdogs
is pantomime, a charade of that larger abstraction.

The clues are there and the message pans out.
But they never do understand the scope,
the magnitude of what’s being hinted at.
Even as a parent myself, I suppose,
I never plumb the depths entirely.

The Brunt of the Curse (poem)

Having borne the brunt
of the women’s curse,
your mother sat with you,
quietly nursing at her breast.

Your pink wrinkles shielded under
her sea-green hospital gown:
My eyes are blessed to see this.
Blessed and red and wet.

Every few days, your lifespan doubled,
but all you knew so far was white walls
sterile scenery and dry hospital air.

I read the parable of the lost sheep
and a Pablo Neruda poem—
wistful and melancholy.
For now you’ll just have to imagine
what a sheep or a Chilean “calle” might look like.

The brunt of a man’s curse
is that the work he does
for the ones he loves
is done almost entirely away from them.

I kissed your head and I headed for the door into the sunshine,
hoping maybe tomorrow you could see it for yourself.

Becoming Apparent

(by Daniel R. Jones)

My son was it. I saw him peek.
I watch the children hide and seek.

When was it last, I seized the day
instead of watching children play?

They sing, “Olly, Olly, oxy!”
Is there joy, save through proxy?