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Robert Lietz

An Upstate Childhood


    The sea was never close, though fresh water set up

nearby in imitation, when swimming meant mostly

that heart-shaped, scalloped, conch-minded city pool, or

the Olympic-measured substitute the city blessed kids’

summers by, upslope, just a little, below the round-tops,

with an ocean reserved for later still, a singularity,

not to be missed, only after years and miles had prepared us,

and roles we imagined for ourselves, as if to explain

how land around, the tablet sea might catalyze, beyond

the mere admission or predicting, or even the way

we had of speaking then, of responding, so that the summer

begins to exist as metaphor, explored, from that cross

trafficked upstate place, or from these heartland spaces

that leave us rounding off the numbers, this fondness

say, for the straightest measured places, for convenience

forever salted with misgivings, whatever there was

to fight or flee, if only grade school, or a grandmother’s

declining, the fear you could disappoint an island-raised

Franciscan sister, beginning to see how planes prepared

with friends in a nun’s absence could be flown once

or make a kid seem criminal, in a moment caught, when she,

you could swear, materialized before you, with only

the memory of that, and classes skipped, with an equally

woeful partner, of routes west, and kids, seven and eight,

on a post-lunch, pre-Kerouac adventure, that pilgrimage

of sorts through pre-interstate America, inspired by comics

and first TVs, and haunted for decades by the escapade’s

retelling, by that reunion-conscripted principal, her fellows,

by sea, symphony, and any of the zillion projects kids

gave into, reading for weeks, come again to some bright

Tuesday on a porch-swing, or risking the thorned edges

of a city yard turned gridiron, where football satisfied alike anticipation, and the usual parochial disappointment

with a season.  Thorns, you could say, were just a start on

risks we might be tried by, sprinting, as agreed, on three,

and cutting left, with maybe a foot or so for safety, finding

a football there to catch, when legs and arms owned

distances, a tackle at the same edge could mean another

take on facing danger, or anyplace near the latticed

post-supported arbor end-zone, at the hedged far end of

playing space, that three foot garage-backed break

a boy could leap into, to come away with a completion,

finessing the local rules, geometry, and every sentence

complications asked you to remember, that momentum

kids would grow up from, through summers they

    could not be done with fast enough.

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