In the Imperial Valley, my father, and I suppose many other people, stepped outside to enjoy the cooler evening air of a hot summer night. I was just a toddler but I remember. He would stand or sit on the front porch. I guess I followed him around like a puppy. He would light his pipe or roll a cigarette and count the stars until he was too drowsy to stay awake.
I wondered as I looked up at him, (and to) him, what was he thinking? He had lots of things to worry about. My mama was in the hospital with TB, fighting for her life. Sometimes he would come home from work and find the door wide open and nobody home, including myself.
Our family was falling apart and it must have been too much for him. Eventually he took us to our godparents. My two sisters and I went to Port Hueneme, CA to stay with my aunt and uncle. My brother went to stay with our grandmother in Oxnard, CA. My father stayed behind and worked. He spent everything he earned on paying the hospital bills.
Maybe he was hoping that the Great One Who Created Us All was in the skies place listening to his prayers.
Sir Walter Raleigh in the Southern Sky
I stay up late and wake up early
The evening settles across the sky
It spreads out like a blanket,
As I sit here by my screen.
I see the night fall, I see my father
when I was small and
sheltered from the pain.
We were standing on our porch steps,
I was looking at his silhouette.
What must be the thoughts he was thinking?
I couldn’t tell out there in the dark.
The desert crickets began their chirping.
They were some where I could not see.
The Milky Way never seemed brighter
As I stood there by his side.
He lights his pipe
I can see it glowing.
It seems to help him think.
The heat of summer
seems to linger
Though the sun has long since gone.
The neighbors with their windows open.
I can hear their living sounds.
My brother sits inside reading
The night time chores have all been done.
Then my father starts to tell me
Where Orion rests tonight.
He moves across the southern skyways.
He fades away when the sun comes to rise.
Find him again tomorrow evening
and you’ll never be lost.
What was in his head? What was he thinking?
As we shared that silent time.
Sir Walter Raleigh filled his pipe bowl
I can smell it even now.
Back inside he tucks me in,
my big brother deep in sleep.
He makes his way to his lonely bedroom
And says “Good night” to the empty side.
San Jose, CA