I tossed and turned sweaty late one night having not been able to get to sleep because I was wondering about the night sky, my birth, my being, and my death. I must have been seven. If my dad had been an astronomer or a biologist, I may have become a scientist, but I have no regrets there. I went downstairs, woke my parents, and told them of my thoughts. My dad was a working-class guy and simply dismissed me with, “go back to bed and go to sleep.” I went back to bed, but of course, could not go back to sleep until the sun came up and then it was breakfast time. My wondering became bedrock and my dad’s response confirmed for me that this is where my identity, separate from his, lay. The experience was vital to setting me on my path to poetry.
I am certain many have had a similar experience to the following one. However, because of who I was at the time, it was important to my growth. In fifth grade, I wrote and drew the contents of a magazine. I would make two or three of the same “issue” and pass them around the class. The positive feedback (whether sincere or out of politeness) I received pushed me further into using my imagination and expressing its results. Though this was a small event, common perhaps, it set me on a course that would a few years later solidify my decision to write my whole life. I can remember thinking at a very young age that all I needed was a pencil (even a stubby one) and a little paper, and I could write anywhere. My second experience was perhaps an experiment in acting out the roles of writer and publisher.
In D. H. Lawrence’s short story “Rocking Horse Winner” a house that spoke to a small boy who rode his rocking horse to determine which horse would win at the horse races. The house kept repeating “There must be more money!” I have always related to that story because my house spoke to me all while I was growing up. What it said was perhaps my subconscious reason for ignoring the practical aspects of life, fighting working class ideas and pushes that my father used in his attempt to persuade me to go into a trade or later seek a career in journalism. The house kept telling me, “Everything was going to be alright.” It said this because my parents lived this way. They lived as thought everything was going to be alright and it was … for them. Though my parents lived modestly, my mother’s dad bought the land and built the house I grew up in. He worked hard all his life and had saved so much money that almost 50-years later my mother continues to receive sizeable monthly checks from her trust. She is now 88. Everything was not going to be “alright” of course. My “golden boy” assumption was upended when the family’s financial reality was made into mythology through ignorance with money matters by the trust fund’s first generation.
When I was 13, my mother’s brother who was the “golden boy” and to be a trust fund inheritor was hit by a trailer truck and killed. Joe dabbled in the arts and wrote while also struggling with brain cancer. He was very kind to me while I was young and got me interested in outdoor sports. For me at the time he was my mentor. For birthdays and Christmas, I had received fishing poles, footballs, etc. In fact, my adolescent mind noted that he was 33 when he died, the same age a Christ. That is how powerful his influence was for me at 13. Along with his other arts equipment (easel, brushes, paints, typewriter, and trumpet), I received a memoir manuscript of his father who remains the hero of the family mythology and perhaps rightly so. My receiving the typed pages in a deep manuscript box was as though I were receiving a relay baton in a relay race of life and death significance. His death propelled me further down poetry’s road. The death of my uncle, my hardworking grandfather soon after, and then the deaths of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King shook my adolescent world. These deaths woke me to my own time limitations on this planet if the sweaty nights hadn’t already done that.