Railroad Ties and Tiki Torches

Before blacktop, I remember the gravel driveway edged with impossibly heavy railroad ties. In July's heat the smell of an oiled past would boil to the surface of the oaken beams to sting my eyes.

I remember catching my first water snake with skittery hands, saucer eyes, and a hummingbird heart. Grab it by the back of the head! Its perfect calligraphy spread across the shallows until it paused, perhaps sensing my wild intent.

My father left for work before dawn and returned long after we were all in bed. I would be half-conscious of his goodnight-kiss-mustache tickling my cheek. The hints of his Polo cologne lingered longer than he did. On his days off he would wash, polish, Armor All and detail the interior the cars. Once, my bike's kickstand gave way and fell against his fully restored, freshly washed and waxed, MGB. With an overhead heft, he threw my bike out of the garage in a roar. I remember the hot lightening of shame and anger striking my breastplate every time I rode that blue bike with wildflowers on the seat.

Summer was also my mother managing my brothers, keeping them from the lake's edge as they toddled and tumbled from one mischievous plot to the next. One summer she returned to school. She took dental hygiene classes during the day and stayed up late into the night at the dining room table carving molars out of purple and pink wax. The baby sitter she hired was the most beautiful person I had ever seen and I remember rifling through her makeup bag in wonder. She told my mom some of her makeup came up missing.

Summer was rescuing box turtles from Hastings Point road and watching small bass dart from under the dock at dawn. Summer was running away to the cradling tree overlooking the whole lake. Summer was the blossoming potential for openness and the instinctual urge for metamorphosis, met with rules and anger and curses . . . I hope you have a daughter just like you some day! Hot tears, hotter loft bedrooms, and the fiery discomposure of discovering how to be. Summer was.

Yet summer also was that wet, swimming kiss in the glowing green space under the raft. And the belted kingfisher keeping vigil on the high branch over the lake. Summer was my first poem and it was in the summer that I screamed across the lake: I will never, ever kill a bat again! 

I am not on the water anymore but am nearby. Now there are fanning pine boughs and cardinals bathing in the creek and ivy climbing up oaks and privacy fences. There are fireflies and tiki torches and wine on the back porch. Summer is less odium, less feet slipping on the gravel, less sunburns stinging the descent into dreams. It is rabbits in hastas and coleus planted in an old fruit crate.

Summer now is all so safe.