Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Yesterday, I celebrated my 74th, and among the flurry of telephone calls and e-mails wishing me well was a call from my grandson Martin who was born on my birthday 30 years ago. At 7:30 a.m. Martin called and we exchanged birthday greetings. He’s a half year into his marriage and recently bought a new home in Madisonville, Louisiana where he practices as a landscape architect, and his cheerful voice buoyed me the rest of the day when I could have been lamenting the fact that I was almost halfway through my seventh decade.

Many of the covers of my books bear the illustrative marks of my brother Paul and the design work of Martin. One of my children’s books, THE CAJUN EXPRESS, was illustrated entirely by Martin, and he began work on it shortly after he celebrated his tenth birthday. The story is about an abandoned London red bus that an unknown person transported across the ocean from England and parked in a pasture near Opelousas, Louisiana. We had passed the bus many times while collecting plants with Martin’s godmother, Vickie, and it looked so forlorn that Martin and I decided to showcase it in a book.

Actually, Martin has traveled throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with me and his godmother from the age of two and has spent a lot of time in the back seat of a van, drawing and sleeping through the more exotic landscapes. I suppose he saw enough landscape to foster an abiding interest in landscape design, but he was often so bored that he resorted to drawing pictures of his Rebok shoes while traveling through long stretches in the West.

During the time Martin was growing up, his mother attended ULL in Lafayette daily, and I was frequently called when emergencies occurred, one of those emergencies being the day that he ran into a tree and battered his mouth so badly that I had to rush him to the emergency room. Yesterday, while going through old photographs, I unearthed several pictures of Martin taken when he was in kindergarten and grade school. The photo I chose to place on this blog shows a face that is not disfigured and teeth that are fairly straight, but you can judge from the following poem in one of my chapbooks that his run-on encounter with a tree could have caused serious damage to his young face.

A tree sprang out,
some small violation of space,

enough to stop him,
cross his eyes,

wet his cowlick
bounce him backward

to a small concussion,
the force of his impulse

usually conquering all space
became gravity mitigated,

the world whirling around him,
him whirling around the world.

On the day they called me,
reporting his bloody mouth

and unknown injury,
known terror struck me,

him, my immortal passage,
beloved of loved ones.

My grandson
struck down by a tree,

Ran into a tree?
Yes, never saw it coming,

suspect goose
governed by some false power,

believed that his running
would outwit the wind,

that he could enter a tree
and pass through,

make stones disappear
from his path,

that he was hypermagically swift.

Stunned, I think
it’s my legacy to him

to run into barriers
instead of sidestepping,

and I lie awake, listening to wind
rustling the pines in my yard,

no longer lulled by their quiet swish.

For both of us,
trees becoming now,

every last one of them,

whispering “look out ahead.”
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