Early Days

In the early days it stayed light till sleep and we woke to puddles
of light in the street and tar heated up at midday for chewing or
tarball sculptures on sticks and we ran through the rainbowed
sprinklers in our underwear into the great green lawns of evening.
We traded wax lips at the bus stops and paid a dime to see Tom
Mix ride off into the screen. We had no great rivers, only dams
so deep they made the old farms into lakes full of sunfish, and
creeks of local crayfish. No fathers spoke of work and no mothers
worked and no one died except the mothers — first Ria’s, then
John’s, then Dickie and David’s. The dogs of the neighborhood
followed us around, big as horses, and in our kitchens brown Ida
and Marie and Winifred made dinners and washed floors while
we roamed the backyard tangles of privet and dogwood and
honeysuckle or followed the gravel paths running like rivers into
the foothills and then the mountains, hazy blue smoke cloaking
their pine and oak and laurel. And Pete, the Gordon setter, once
carried Honeybunch’s kittens across the tarry street in his soft
retriever’s mouth and let us ride his broad back back to Ria’s house
where her mother, still alive and whole, sat down to show us how
to hold the bony blind kittens in our cupped palms while Pete and
Honeybunch watched.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1947

It is the morning of the world
I want to tell you about,
my world of east Tennessee red clay
and crabgrass in its spiky rosette patches,
a child’s morning after Cream of Wheat
or cinnamon toast, the years before
the school bus loomed for us, late again,
racing down the road—the mornings
when the fathers had bicycled or carpooled
off to work, the mothers had turned
to making beds, and we burst out
of our Cemesto six-basic-floorplan houses
to the backyards and greenbelt woods
left by the Army Engineers for camouflage
in our gated town, place we already knew,
dimly, proudly, to be the home
of the Atom Bomb.
It is the everyday mornings I mean,
when we rushed out eager to find
what new rabbit trails could be seen
in the wet grass, what ripe blackberries
could be found in the briar patch,
whether the plums and apples
were still green, whether Honeybunch’s
kittens had opened their eyes yet.
The mockingbirds sang us the songs
of every bird in our kingdom
in one long stream from a corner tree.
It was paradise, seeing the world
through morning eyes.

ROBIN CHAPMAN grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the hometown of these poems, and now lives, gardens, paints, and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. She is author of nine books of poetry, most recently Dappled Things (Paris: Revue K), a collaboration pairing 23 of her poems and Peter Miller’s photogravures, and One Hundred White Pelicans (Tebot Bach), poems of climate change. Retired from teaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison, she helps organize the UW-Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar.

Proximity Author Interview: Robin Chapman