Kayak, by John Stanizzi

John Stanizzi
for my son, Jason. and my grandson, Jonah

The rainiest June since 1989,
and the weighty vault of gray clouds
spills open every day —
three inches yesterday!
Enormous trees lie down in wet grass,
as easy as uprooting jewelweed,
and let the rain bathe over them,
their ragged crowns of roots exposed,
as in the peripheral hills
lightning shorts out the sky
and bottom-heavy thunder
snarls in the distance,
looking for attention.
But my son calls anyway,
eager to defy the persistent weather,
wanting to scull the kayak
through the day’s foggy midday funk,
parting the mist to reveal the sun
and us emerging from the haze.

So I agree to go,
though I’m not in the mood.
We climb into the tandem kayak,
my grandson, my son, and me.
The air is sodden and thick,
and the gray sky so low I can touch it.

We seat ourselves in the boat,
triplets, matryoshka dolls —
two-year old Jonah in front,
the smallest,
the one everyone wants to hold,
curious and smooth ,
hand over the side,
parting the water with his fingers,
searching for everything
that lies between and beneath.

His father, Jason, is in the middle,
nicked up,
largely overlooked,
and huddled between infancy and old age,
his past a kind of love.

And me in the stern,
grandfather, father.
still strong enough to hold them both,
but worn by light,
worn by darkness
and growing tired of the long,
silent stories
of men who, once they go,
can never return.

Author’s Comment: the moment the poem was born was when my son, Jason, Jonah’s father, remarked jokingly that floating around in the kayak, lined up the way we were, made us look like matryoshka dolls; the three of us look just same, only different ages and sizes. I thought it was a remarkable enough observation to want to write about it. And of course, the smallest doll, the doll we go for, is always the most beautiful, the most pristine, the most sheltered.

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