When you pull your old self out to show,
the dead you don’t know and the dead you do
come smiling recognition who you are:
just nothing but what they think they know.
Shirt like lost dog on suburban corner
or sneaker highway-side, the occasional
eyeglasses, apron, longjohns, brassiere
next to those places we all pass by–
so much for us and the people we know,
even when they lie next to us night by night.
The old self-us they dream, while we’re in flight.
Richard Devroe became fascinated with little things when he was four years old and his parents died. His Aunt Rebecca told him to sit quietly in the entryway of the house before the memorial service, and all he knew was that his mother and father had gone up into the air in an airplane and disappeared. Sitting in a hard, dark chair, he vaguely construed the scene as one of waiting for his parents’ return despite what his aunt had told him. She had said that they were “never coming back,” but waiting here alone like this, Richard began to take that as meaning that they were somehow invisible now, that they would come back but he might not know it.
He tried to recall his parents’ faces and hands. He could almost conjure up the feeling of being spoken to and touched in a comforting way, not like now with Aunt Becca, whose perfunctory affection only momentarily reeled him in from wherever he was drifting. His parents’ presence had always put him solidly in place in the world. Now there was nothing but this chair drifting in a narrow room, and the experience of his own yearning to be elsewhere, where they were. While the clock on the wall behind him clicked off an eternity of seconds, he stared at a shaft of sunlight that came in through the window in the door and made a small golden pool of light on the floor near him. If his parents were invisible, they must be even smaller than the dancing motes of dust in that shaft of light. Then Richard Devroe tried to wish himself as small as things would be if they were never coming back but nonetheless returned.
Though Aunt Rebecca was not cruel, she was extremely high-strung and self-involved and could thus be brutally dismissive, and she considered child-rearing a process of enforcing quiet, polite behavior. Thus, in the months that followed Richard’s moment of enlightenment, he had plenty of time to meditate solemnly on modes of existence unavailable to the untrained eye. Continue reading