Fall

December 23rd, 2010 · 3 Comments

In the fall they open their textbooks, and they skip hundreds of pages to spend all their time with a few choice lines. What did the writer mean by “beyond many lots of diamonds”? Why this wording over a more convenient one? Notice how he inverts the usual standards and expectations associated with this, an ode to the leaves, etc., somebody locked inside a Boston room, scribbling on a notebook as the commuters hustle down the sidewalks, and he’s not writing her, but he’s thinking about her, and imagining that she hasn’t changed.

And inside the house they smell homemade breads and pastas and rich desserts, and the jackets are zipped, and the tackling grounds are off-limits because of the thick black mud. They circle around the blacktop, arguing, fistfights.

In the classroom they’re bored. Their noses run. They draw in their notebooks, an announcement comes on TV, they sit on the floor, they put their heads in their arms and their world goes to black as movies are being made, as novels are being written, as people are trying to change the world.

Indian Summer. They want to run. This is the time before compulsive tics, therapists, adults. One of the girls twirls her fingers through her hair. She puts someone’s last name in the back of her notebook, right behind hers. One of them watches her from the back of the class. He tries to sketch outlines of her face. He loves her more now than anyone ever will.

Mr. Cook, the moody old man, arranges them into groups to discuss the poem and come up with answers to Reflect & Consider. He tries to inch toward her group, but the old man assigns randomly, on a whim. “Unless there are problems, these will be your groups for the rest of the year.” Hearts sink down into the chairs.

Hearts rejoice.

There is laughter and a hand casually slapping an arm. Catching eyes. Some of them smell weird. Some of them are weird. Some of them scratch lines, in long black pen, through the middle of their partner’s text. Some of them scratch black lines down each other’s arms, and the lines rise like thin ridges, and the ink is inside the skin.

Mr. Cook claps his hands. Turn your answers in. Some of them look down, trying to hide. Some of them scribble at the last minute. Some of them are cheating. Some of them get mad. Why should I give them to him? Time’s up! Josh, time’s up! He points toward the first group and the anxiety jumps to their throats. But some of them don’t care.

What did we find out? What were the “diamonds at the bottom of the bay”? What does the rhyming scheme indicate? Why was the narrator there? What was the author trying to say?

In the fall I’m back at home. I drive for miles through the forest and the occasional field in my compact rental car before I finally park it somewhere in an empty lot. By an old basketball hoop. I walk down past the bike trail – where the grass is long, untamed, brown – and stop at this quiet spot by the water. There’s a long, overturned log and I sit on it and light a cigarette. Most of the time I don’t like to talk.

It’s the spot where we were, but that’s done, it’s done. Nothing hangs around like the small ripples and the twigs in the manmade lake, the litter pressed into the dirt and the ugly fish who lurk in the bottom of the tide. They called me on Saturday to say that they enjoyed my latest batch of poems, and that they would like to include “Fish in the Bottom of the Rooms” in the revised 23rd edition of the Modern Fiction text. Of course I’d be a fool to turn them down.

And I tell them that the fish are a metaphor for something. I don’t remember. The poem came from those old rooms, when we separated into groups and I kept trying to get this girl to laugh. When we first took words and analyzed them, when it was novel, and the meanings of all things were beginning to jump out. I tell them they can use it, but for the record I don’t think it’s a good fit.

And I stay there and look over the lake, and down at the same hands, and the grown legs, and the cumbersome feet that always kept me out of sports. The cigarette feels good against the chill and I remember the time I washed my car, drove to her house, took her to this school dance. I wonder where they all are, where they’ve gone, what could have happened from here. It’s only fifteen years this fall.

And I wonder about a new poem somewhere under all of that. It would have to brief and striking and melancholy, something you vaguely remember from a long time ago, something that has already been done.

Tags: 2010 · AP Issues · December 2010 · Fiction

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ina // Oct 11, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    This book is great at describing child beivahor for this turbulent year. Its strength is in giving comfort to parents that they are probably doing a pretty good job. Yes, everyone tells you twos are hard, but this book spells out exactly how and why. Really leaves you with a sense of comfort that the spoiled egocentric beivahor is not lifelong, but a necessary development.The book does not claim to offer a solution or be the perfect expert (thank you!), but gives a few suggestions to parents to get through this period of development. I left my reading of it feeling much better about my parenting job. Some of the language is dated (as are most classics), but I hang onto the statement, every mother of a 2 1/2 year old needs plenty of breaks. Although one commentator questions the author’s suggestion to limit choices at 2 1/2, she seems to limit that to this tough period where the child has a lot of new things happening. Limiting choices really helped in our case. I recommend this book for any parent with a two year old.

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