In the beginning, a boy was born unto an humble family in San Jose. Was this then The beginning, or was it just A beginning? An occurrence in the time space continuum — a certain event, in a chain of events already in progress? I’ll leave that for you, ideal reader, to decide for yourself. As for the proponents of primogeniture, I’ll allow that the boy was not the first born, but the second. But then, neither were Jacob, Judah, or Isaac first born.
This boy was very bright but sometimes had trouble with some things. Like, tying his shoes. He would listen intently as it was explained: “The rabbit goes around his burrow, and then he sees the fox, so he goes into the hole.” Though he could see this very vividly, even to the point that he would shudder in fear at the fox, he couldn’t translate it into shoelaces, and what his fingers should do with them.
His first word was “bird,” and when he realized that the spoken word could symbolize something that magically flew through the air, he ran around chasing birds and pointing at them, repeating the magic incantation he had just learned. He would later claim that he had meant Jazz Saxophonist Charlie Parker, alias Bird, but this story is apocryphal, and at this stage of his development he could no more have understood Bebop Jazz than he could have appreciated a cup of strong black coffee.
As with the tying of shoes, so the reading of books. He would stare at them, and conjure up ideas about what the lines and squiggles stood for. He loved big words, like the names of dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs Rex. Brontosaurus. Stegosaurus. Triceratops. There was a book his father read him about physics and sub atomic particles. “An atom is made up of electrons, neutrons, and protons,” he’d quote to the mailman on command, as evidence of his deep thinking prowess.
He was able to quote verbatim the entire text of Bartholomew and the Oobleck, a book by Dr. Seuss that was also on a scratchy vinyl record that his family owned. Of course he liked the character: Bartholomew Cubbins, a boy not unlike himself, but he particularly liked the wizards, who had been called upon by the foolish king to create a new kind of weather, because of his regal ennui. He was so bored by the mundane varieties of weather available in his kingdom. He asks the royal magicians if they can do anything:
“… We are men of groans and howls,
Mystic men who eat boiled owls,
Tell us what you wish, oh King,
Our magic can do anything.”
He wanted something different. Anything would be preferable to the same old same old. The wizards chanted:
“Rain and snow are not enough.
We must have some brand new stuff . . . .
bring down Oobleck on us all!”
Perhaps it was the rhyming verses of the good doctor that inspired him to try his hand at writing poetry himself. He promptly wrote his first poem:
I looked at the tree.
The tree looked at me.
Up jumped the tree.
Up jumped me!
On the penultimate line he would crouch down like a panther, then as he shouted the final line, he would spring into the air in triumph!
His mom bragged about it to her mother, his grandmother. She was an Elementary School Principal, and knew a thing or two about poetry. She seemed impressed but immediately began comparing his poem unfavorably to Longfellow’s “forest primeval” in Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie
“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”
Or Joyce Kilmer’s far superior (than her grandson’s) treatment of the tree topic:
“I think that I shall never see,
A Poem lovely as a tree.”
He had to agree that his versifying was not as amazing as he had initially supposed. He had really only made one rhyme, and then repeated it, in the same order. He liked how he’d anthropomorphized the tree, making it almost human, but he hadn’t really developed its personality, beyond mere looking and jumping. Of course, he had intended the jumping to be a metaphor for the rapid rate of growth the young exhibited. But that hadn’t gotten through to his grandmother, apparently — or grand apparently. He started to feel lousy about his attempt, and sorry he had even written the stupid thing. Shouldn’t he have gotten credit for writing anything at his age? He couldn’t even read, for goodness sake. It would be a long time before he would try his hand at poetry again. He would have to have a clearer understanding of how a poem means, and be able to explain all seven levels of ambiguity. Kilmer was right:
“Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.”
Christopher R. Craddock (c) 2017