Hey all. You didn’t think I forgot about you, did you? I wouldn’t ever!
Do you know how little kids, maybe 4 or 5 years old, are obsessed with babies? Something about finally being old enough to comprehend that people grow up makes them fascinated with babies. It’s like, “hey, I used to be that small!” They also latch on to the concept of “Big kids” or “Older kids”. Basically, they are astounded by how young they’ve been and how old they will get.
Sometimes, as a young twenty-something, I feel like a 4 or 5 year old. I get fascinated by adolescence, and acknowledging how infinite being a high-schooler felt when I was there, and how I’ll never go back—how I’m only slowly moving towards all these bizarre adult experiences. Lately all of that has been on my mind a fair amount. I blame taxes and student loans and whatnot.
BUT ANYWAY. This poem makes me ache and wonder about being a young person and fills me with many ideas about who I was and who I thought I would become. I hope you find it inspiring as well!
I used to visit a boy in Bakersfield, hitchhike
to the San Diego terminal and ride the bus for hours
through the sun-blasted San Fernando Valley
just to sit on his fold-down bed in a trailer
parked in the side yard of his parent’s house,
drinking Southern Comfort from a plastic cup.
His brother was a sessions man for Taj Mahal,
and he played guitar, too, picked at it like a scab.
Once his mother knocked on the tin door
to ask us in for dinner. She watched me
from the sides of her eyes while I ate.
When I offered to wash the dishes she told me
she wouldn’t stand her son being taken
advantage of. I said I had no intention
of taking anything and set the last dish
carefully in the rack. He was a bit slow,
like he’d been hit hard on the back of the head,
but nothing dramatic. We didn’t talk much anyway,
just drank and smoked and fucked and slept
through the ferocious heat. I found a photograph
he took of me getting back on the bus or maybe
stepping off into his arms. I’m wearing jeans
with studs punched along the cuffs,
a t-shirt with stars on the sleeves, a pair
of stolen bowling shoes and a purse I made
while I was in the loony bin, wobbly X’s
embroidered on burlap with gaudy orange yarn.
I don’t remember how we met. When I look
at this picture I think I might not even
remember this boy if he hadn’t taken it
and given it to me, written his name under mine
on the back. I stopped seeing him
after that thing with his mother. I didn’t know
I didn’t know anything yet. I liked him.
That’s what I remember. That,
and the I-don’t-know-what degree heat
that rubbed up against the trailer’s metal sides,
steamed in through the cracks between the door
and porthole windows, pressed down on us
from the ceiling and seeped through the floor,
crushing us into the damp sheets. How we endured it,
sweat streaming down our naked bodies, the air
sucked from our lungs as we slept. Taj Mahal says
If you ain’t scared, you ain’t right. Back then
I was scared most of the time. But I acted
tough, like I knew every street.
What I liked about him was that he wasn’t acting.
Even his sweat tasted sweet.
—Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men (W.W.Norton, 2011)