It was a tremendous fall:
From the height of the hay bales,
Stacked two stories high, to the floor
Of the barn and the bicycle that broke
The fall and nearly my neck.
I prefer not to think about how close I came.
The scar, a tiny spot of weaker flesh
Shaped like a distant crescent moon,
Remains, as does the barn;
But the hay bales are gone.
I expected to see them still
There, and myself caught midair,
Pudgy childhood hands, shirt
Flapping and exposing skin tanned
By a reckless summer. Me, suspended
Forever, before the bruise and the poultice
Of stinging herbs.
I’d walk under me, pretend
To catch me, poke at my smaller limbs,
Try to recognize my face
Full of its incredulous joy and fear, even try
To pull me down
From that ridiculous frozen flailing position.
But no proof remains that I ever flew.
Just that once a bicycle stopped my face.
No evidence of anything tremendous,
Except the way my eyes avoid a spot
Precisely 17 feet and 4 inches above the floor,
3 yards from the tool rack’s
Southern edge, right under
The rafter I missed, a spot
Roughly boy-shaped and soaring.
When I was a kid I did indeed fall from the top of the hay bales in the barn at Montague Farm, Massachusetts. It was roughly equivalent to a fall from one story height, I bet, despite what the poem says, and though I bounced off the hay as I went, I did in fact land on my face on bicycles. My brother ran out of the barn screaming, “He’s dead, he’s dead!” I was knocked out for a bit, that’s for sure.
In my memory, that barn is actually much like the tire-swinging scene in Charlotte’s Web; a cavernous place, the geese outside to be avoided lest they bite painfully. The farm was a commune, and I spent weekends there when visiting my father. I have a host of hazy memories of it: getting up, just once, to try milking a cow; getting in the wrong field and angering a bull, and how my dad got in to distract the bull away from us; rushing through the tall cornfields and hiding, or picking asparagus and spinach in the sun…
I didn’t really grow up in the country, but somehow, those memories are enough to conjure up a whole panoply of country remembrances. Sometimes, it’s not the long experiences that shape us, but the brief ones.