Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Perpetual Privacy

Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.
~ Francis Bacon

When your daddy’s a poet, you often tag along to his readings. The venue of last weekend’s performance, the cramped cellar of a California foothill winery, may have appealed more to the grown-ups than to our boys. Nevertheless, because of Jukie’s strong bond with his dad, wherever Andy goes, Jukie goes. I bet Jukie has attended more poetry readings and spent more time in art galleries than any other kid in northern California.

Jukie loves a novel experience, so on this day, he happily hopped out of the car in sunny Placerville and eagerly entered the cool, tomb-like cellar room. Towering wooden crates filled with wine bottles lined the walls. Candlelight and a few antique lamps dimly lit the room. “How cool – it’s like a dungeon,” Truman announced. Jukie spied a plateful of cookies and swiped a few before anyone noticed. Grabbing a water-filled goblet by the stem and sitting down, he was ready for the entertainment.

When Andy stepped into the light and began reading his poetry, Jukie soon joined him, settling on a nearby empty stool. Always curious, and never self-conscious, Jukie was coaxed to action by the intimate setting (and by the unclaimed stool). Part of the fun of watching Jukie interact with the world involves watching him respond to the slightest notion, or the most subtle inspiration. Perched next to the racks of wine bottles (what could go wrong?), Jukie surveyed the room to see what Daddy saw.  

Sitting up front, and unable to intervene without making a scene, I relaxed and watched the show along with everyone else. Younger brother Truman shot me a worried look. “Daddy’s got this,” I whispered. Ever the unflappable pro, Andy continued his reading while handing Jukie his water glass, guiding him to choose a seat and to remain seated. He occasionally held Jukie’s hand or placed a calming palm on the top of our boy’s head. Andy did what he does while multitasking on stage: he read poems, made quips, and put the room at ease, all while expertly soothing and directing his boy. What a pair these two make – the distinguished poetry professor who teaches literature and writing, this poet laureate who crafts words into art, and his sweet, angelic boy who giggles unaccountably, and who cannot speak.

Robert Frost said that “poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” But what if there are no words? When I behold my mysterious, silent boy, I wonder about the poetry locked in his beautiful mind. I wonder how Jukie processes the world. Does he speak silently in his head, as all of us do? He understands our words, but does he think in words? Or does he think in pictures, as Temple Grandin says she does? Do our words translate into fleeting pictures in his unique and marvelous brain?

Sometimes at night as I tuck him into bed, I wonder if Jukie speaks in his dreams. Can his brain “unlock” while in a deep stage of sleep? I wish that Jukie’s dream state could let him speak freely, the way that he sometimes speaks to me in my dreams, when I’m lucky. He runs and laughs and goofs around just as wakeful Jukie does, and then the words flow from him, as if requiring no effort. Sometimes I notice myself hearing his impossible words and then wake unwillingly, keeping my eyes shut, clinging to the dreamy engagement for as long as I can. I want to remember everything he has said to me. 

Aching to hear his words, I envision his unconscious mind traveling down the hall during the wee hours of the night and meeting up with mine.  At times like this, I wish to jump back into the dream so that I could ask him questions. What makes you laugh so heartily and suddenly, and seemingly without cause? Why do you sometimes burst into such heart-shaking and unprovoked tears? How can I help you when that happens?

So much of your day is so peaceful and unhurried. What are you thinking about as you watch the trees sway in the summer breeze? What do you see in those clouds you study? What are your greatest desires? How I wish I could interrupt your perpetual privacy for a moment, and hear your spoken thoughts. My son, can you tell me that you love me? Just once? I promise that I will hold onto it forever.