Years earlier, I hated the Beatles.
All girls I longed to kiss screamed,
The Lads smoked (I was a good boy),
they played loud, and that hair!
Daring me, you dragged me to “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Defiant goofiness hooked me for life. Years later,
we listened to John again and again –
“As soon as you’re born, they make you feel small…”
our mantra. We shared Ruffles
with sour cream onion dip and Cokes.
“Yeah, after the Air Force, I’ll be done with the Draft,”
you matter- of- factly said, your eyes softly screaming.
Safe with a student deferment, I found no words,
life- long friend.
We’d chased Nazis and Commies
out of town with cap guns and toy tanks,
guzzled buttered popcorn and watched King Kong
smash Godzilla again and again.
After all the summer nights we spent on a porch
wrapped in soft sleeping bags, lullabied
by crickets and woken by work bound high heels,
after all the marshmallows we burnt to a gourmet ash,
and the nights we blammed rock’n’roll
on amplified ukes and bongo drums
driving my poor mother mad, after the make out parties
you described to shy me, I hid in pacifist dreams and had no words.
“…they hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool…”
Reach him, John, I wished, opening more Cokes.
One New Years, I bought your Air Force weed.
We sat, stoned, motionless, and scared in a slow car
full of old pals while some cop followed us
three miles and shrugged us off. “…’til you’re so fuckin’ crazy
you can’t follow their rules.” That was our last time.
You wrote my mother from Vietnam
and survived. I had no words when the Air Force
released you to that canoe trip
where white water threw you helmetless
to boulders. I was helpless again,
but our brother John caught you,
helped you dance and howl.
Paul Belz is an environmental educator and writer, currently based in Chico, California. He teaches natural history for preschool and elementary students, their parents, and teachers. Paul has published articles in Terrain Magazine, the East Bay Monthly, Childcare Exchange Magazine, the website Boots’n’All and the blogs Wild Oakland and Green Adventures Travel. He’s co-editing a book on bioregional education with Judy Goldhaft of San Francisco’s Planet Drum Foundation. His poetry appears in a number of publications, including Canary, Living In the Land of the Dead (an anthology on homelessness by San Francisco’s Faithful Fools Ministry), Poetalk Quarterly, Just Like Cabbage, Only Different, The Poeming Pigeon, Blueline, the anthology What’s Nature Got to Do With Me? and others. His other joys include hiking and camping, world travel, vegetarian cooking, and long walks around San Francisco and his hometown, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Editor’s Note: Watch Califragile in the next week for some of Paul Belz’ nature poetry.