Camping Out

He’s almost 8, my son lying next to me, his permanent smile mirroring my own. Is that Saturn? he asks, looking up at the sky. I ditched the tent’s cover, only transparent thin fabric between us and the universe. Am I trying to remember what 7 was like, or did I never grow up? It doesn’t matter, we are here, together, our fingers pointing at constellations, sometimes a plane flying off to cross the Pacific. We talk about other earths and aliens until he drifts into slumber mid-sentence.

As he snores quietly I read about Lydia Child, her quest to end slavery. I listen to the crickets, imagine camping without the tent, without freedom, following the north star to Philadelphia or New York or Canada. Then I’m asleep. I dream about walking deep in the woods, seeing a gray fox. I wake to the sound of rustling bushes. It might be 1am, click my flashlight on, sets of eyes reflect back from outside the tent. Two deer a few feet away nibbling grass. Pausing they stare at me, then trot off. Asleep again until maybe 4am, then Hudson has to pee. We totter out half-awake, an owl hooting nearby, the two of us in our pjs, little streams in the dark.

It’s morning, Hudson says at 7am. He’s snuggled up next to me in his sleeping bag, hair mussed. Good morning, kid, I say. We grin, no words, just love.

Summer in Hillsborough, California

Japanese maple tree, its delicate leaves shade the pool where my son teaches himself to swim. Jumps from the edge with his sister, free in July air, the two tumble into clear water splashing. Adonis, my wife calls me jokingly, as I lie tanning in the sun, meditating, absorbing the warmth of summer. Afternoon breeze blows the camellia and purple princess flowers, while hawks and crows circle overhead patiently watching the earth below. A baby deer trots up nibbling grass, then jolts off. Hardly seems real, these moments away from the city, away from computers and planning. No past, no future, only dragonflies navigating the present wind.

Greased Watermelon

Most of my friends don’t go to church on Sundays, they go to the pool. I give my family’s member number at the front desk, but everyone knows my sister and me, we’ve been going for years. I quickly pass through the locker room, trying to avoid seeing the ancient hanging testicles of older men drying themselves. Quickly out the door, it appears majestic like Memorial Stadium where the Orioles play. The pool. A thick blue chlorinated backwards L, two connected rectangles filled with the tanned bodies of summer. I look over at the distant grassy area where the high school girls in curvy bikinis are splayed out on towels talking about Guiding Light and General Hospital, listening to Q107 on their transistor radios. The upper area has the baby pool, shallow warm urine-filled liquid where chubby diapered legs splash and play with exhausted parents. I check out the high dive, see if anyone is trying for a can opener or leaping off headfirst. The warped Ping-Pong table is in action, sandpaper paddles hitting the ball from all angles, while onlookers chomp on frozen 3 Musketeers bars. I opt for a jump off the low dive, then get into the sharks and minnows game.

Sun high in the sky, no one is wearing sunscreen, as timeless moments pass at the glistening watery oasis. An hour later, kids compete in relays, dive for quarters, try to dunk lifeguards. The greased watermelon is the grand finale. I see it resting like an oval green buttery pig, on the edge of the high dive board. We all gather around the perimeter, maybe 70 of us, waiting for the oblong sphere to be shoved into the prepubescent abyss. The head lifeguard slowly climbs the ladder allowing the excitement for the time-honored tradition to build. Then with a nudge of his foot the thing is released to gravity with a cannonball splash. We are a kicking thrashing throng, Lord of the Flies, elbows and hands jutting out in all directions, like the start to a sugar-drunk triathlon. I can’t see anything, never wear goggles; I’m in the center of the wet stampede. Then I feel it, hard against my foot, of the earth, not someone’s thigh, the watermelon. I move it gradually, careful to guide it with my feet, barely paddling. Seconds later I heave it up to the side of the pool, hop out, struggle to hold it up, declare victory. A minute passes before everyone realizes the game is over, then they see me with it. A moment of awe, invincible, me, a man among boys.

Walking up the stairs to the exit, I want to think it was my skill, my power, my stellar swimming, but no, just blind luck. Before I leave, I stare at the photo of the 1966 swim team, their taut smooth baby boomer muscles at life’s physical apex. I clutch my watermelon thinking about my dad who went to Vietnam in ’67, shifting the weight from arm to arm, I hope I can carry it all the way home.

Capri

Manicured ladies in stilettos navigate ancient smooth
stoned pathways, corridors assembled during Roman times.
Their legs, butt cracks, and cleavage pattern the night,
wafts of perfume mingle with the smell of grilled
octopus and cigarettes.

Some cling to tan wrinkled arms
of sugar daddies, men with white chest hairs
attached to fortunes drenched in cologne.
I never visit the island for Gucci or Fendi,
air-conditioned square shops of consumer luxury.

The purring cicadas surrounded by sea
are my siren song, blue water darkening as it journeys
to Tunisia. Pulsating, my calves quiver up and down steps
to Villa Jovis where Tiberius reigned supreme, decadently
tossing the unwanted off cliffs into the watery
chasm of time.

The ruins sit unaffected by sun’s sweat dripping
from my elbows. I rest in pine tree shadows, imagine when
Neruda was here, arranging verse in his head. Away from the glitz,
everything is as it was, as it is, ants, jasmine, laughter
of the old women who were born in Capri,
born by the sea.