We are happy to welcome DAVID LEHMAN back to our pages.
The Complete History of the Boy
The baby giggled in his crib.
His father walked in. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because,” the baby said, “we all have our joy.”
It was his first sentence.
When the baby had his own bed,
he said children are luckier than grownups
because they get to sleep in their own bed
while grownups have to share.
At four he was asked what he wanted
to be when he grew up. “Santa Claus,” he said.
That was Thanksgiving. By January he thought better of it.
“I never want to be a grown-up because
that would be the end of me.”
It was the age of the aphorism:
“Candles are statues that burn for the ceremony.”
“Saliva is the maid of your mouth.” (It cleanses it.)
Science explained everything,
the workings of windshield wipers, for example:
“The darkness causes the rain
and comes from the rain, which goes up
to the sky and falls down again
on the windshield and the windows,
and you have to wipe the darkness off.”
The boy was an early Buddhist
certain that his gerbil, Lovely Rainbow by name,
would return to earth someday as a human being
with his or her own gerbil to bring home from school.
He was five years old. “She fell asleep and then
her eyes stayed closed forever and she died.”
His father took him to the Johnson Museum
and stood him before “Mirage,” an abstract painting
by Hans Hofmann (1946). How did he like it?
“Awesome,” the boy said.
The boy said, “God is calling me.”
“He wants me to go to heaven.
Then when I die I’ll come back here afterwards.”
Heaven was a house. No,
heaven was a cloud.
The boy had a philosophical bent.
He spoke with icy calm.
“My wife is invisible,” he said. “My children are invisible.”
Then came the questions.
“Who named the first man Adam?
Who named the first woman Eve?
Did Adam have a mustache and a beard?
Did Eve have long hair like yours, Mama?
“Did God make Adam? How?
What was God doing in the sky
before he made Adam and Eve?
“How come Haman was wicked?
Who was more wicked, Haman or Hitler?
Who came first, Moses or Haman?
Who came first, Moses or Jonah?
“Does Haman rhyme with Satan?
“How did Jonah build his house in the whale’s belly?
Where did he find the wood?
How old was Adam when he died?
“How come wicked people are wicked?
If Ahab was wicked, how come he was king?
“Where did God get his power?
Did God create himself?
Does God know what you dream?
“Are God’s eyes bigger than heaven?
Does God see everything?
Are his eyes the blue of the sky?
“Did Queen Esther have brown skin or white skin?
Do the sun and moon have a mother and father?
“You say God but God is a man so who is the sun’s mother?”
He spoke into the tape recorder.
“This is the sound of a nickel,” he said.
“This is the sound of a dime.”
He was going to make a movie
called What Is Better Than Home
in Cape Cod where on the fourth of July
he went to the Bourne fair so he was in
Bourne on the fourth of July.
In his opinion the ideal name for a restaurant was Toys.
His pets included Oh, Sweetheart, Marmie, Devil Cake,
Hot Dog, Most Soulful, Chimes, Quacksmith,
Yes, Mopo, and Mousson.
His favorite was Sweetheart.
The boy was mad at his mother who didn’t hang up
the phone right away when he fell and hurt his head.
He was indignant. “Hurts are more important than inventions.”
He dreamed his father died. “Mama told me in the car.”
When he woke up he climbed into bed with his father, happy.
He wanted to discuss the floor plan of the house:
“Is my room over the dining room?”
He wanted to know which was more important,
the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.
The former is a symbol of liberty, the latter a symbol
of industry, his mother explained. That clinched things
for the boy. He unhesitatingly chose liberty.
“Which is more important, religion or God?”
He was still five years old.
They found a special school for him.
He took classes in Magical Thinking and excelled
in the making of weird predictions and dire threats
that scared you even though you knew
they wouldn’t come true.
He also learned how to walk and talk in his sleep.
Two years later he saw Hans Hofmann’s “Mirage”
only this time on the cover of a book
with his father’s name on it.
“Awesome,” the boy said.
The world was still a dance not a duel, with invisible swords.
And at the museum the Hofmann hadn’t changed a bit.
Joy in the house, laughter in the halls, the boy in pajamas:
There were still a few good boyhood years left.
David Lehman‘s recent books are One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir (Cornell University Press, 2019) and Playlist: A Poem (Pittsburgh).