I explore outside, this neighborhood of fallen leaves and dew-capped grass.
Walking along these crowded streets. Among these busy people.
In the early morning before school begins, there are always children playing in the empty fields of grass and stones and broken dreams.
For a while I watch a childhood I never had.
The rising and falling.
Swinging wildly across the monkey bars of the jungle gym.
Playing tag with others at the park.
But suddenly I am tossed back, pushed into a world of anomie—time slowed to echo in vast canyons where they glare at me with startled indignation.
And here, the local children race through piles of gathered leaves.
Scattering them about in a flurry of excitement.
And so, the work begins again to toil, as my father requested.
Scraping across this yard until dying grass is revealed or sweat falls, barely noticed in this biting autumn cold.
It is a time of mid-life crises.
Of re-evaluating one's condition.
Of simply not knowing or hoping or maybe even caring what faces one down the road.
The road ahead, after all, is one of uncertainty.
It winds and turns, shifts in new directions, falls back, and repeats again.
If leaves are a sign of prosperity then—
I have an abundance of wealth.
A father asking repeatedly if I need help.
Again and again these children race wildly through, scattering the leaves I gathered.
So, I stand with rake in hand, gathering again.
Staring at the trees, their multi-colored leaves—red, yellow, and green.
Wondering if things will ever change.
I wish I, too, understood the beauty in leaves falling as David Ignatow wrote. To whom are we beautiful as we go?
Asleep beneath ruffled sheets, shivering in the cold, I do not so much have a dream, but rather an image of place and of self that repeats itself, unyielding.
I stand there, unafraid.
The dusty crossroad in the middle of nowhere and everywhere.
Beside those winding paths, a faded wooden sign pointing in different directions.
All converging into one distant trail.
Unpaved and undiscovered.
Where is the fear this afternoon? Where did it go and why can't I locate it now?
I wonder: why do I even want to?
It is hiding, at least for now.
That's a good thing. I can search for the warmth and the afterglow.
The hypnotic moment when the mind wants a transformation.
To break through the overwhelming reality. To uncover the underground of the self.
Images blur together, skating across this empty landscape—no withering trees, no sharp-toothed cliffs of clay from which to gauge my direction.
I stand along that lonely road, yearning.
I want that subtle redefining of self, the rebuilding that can only take place in private.
I begin with gristle and bone.
The shattered clavicle reconstructed.
The pelvic bone bolted into place.
I shall tear this body apart. Limb by limb. Fibrous tissue to meaty bone, digging deep into myself until I discover…that collage of photographs collected and arranged, the memorial for the person who has been broken up over all of this, hope for the child carrying those same fears inside that I now carry.
And in this image of perfection, the ashes of a fire stamped out long ago.
The remnants of a former self, loved and hated.
Running down those winding paths away from me.
I awake in the early morning cold, exhausted. But beneath the shower, hot water raining down, I am invigorated as if baptized for the first time.
Mornings like these I purposefully turn the water to scorching hot.
Just wanting it to itch when it dribbles off my skin.
To burn for no other purpose than to burn, to enliven this dying soul.
It is not cold or frozen water that I desire.
After all, frozen water, as Paul Diel proclaims, is an image of total stagnation of the psyche, the dead soul.
So, I keep the water burning hot as a way to preserve the soul I lost long ago.
To burn away anything that might be unsatisfactory to others. To me.
I stare at my reflection each morning, just before the mirror fogs up.
Disappointed again, I watch it disappear before me.
My father glares back in that mirror.
Tall and awkward, like me, in his youth.
As we move along in our lives, we grow closer together and still further apart, and now we move separately in opposite directions.
Perhaps he sees me when he stares into the mirror.
What is reflected in this mirror if not the way we truly see ourselves, living with what we've done and what we've imagined?
What we regret deep down inside?
I stand with my hands on my hips.
In direct defiance of my father.
I picture him staring—Get your hands off your hips. That's not becoming of a man.
A man never walks with his head down. Others might perceive him as weak.
And a man never puts his hands on his hips. Or skips down the street. Or cools down with the Chinese fan he won at the arcade. Others might perceive him as weak.
My father turns his head once again in the shame that has always bothered me.
Incessant shame that nags and gnaws.
A look that deconstructs.
Where is the foundation for this shame?
In the mind? In the body?
In the scattered leaves, I may not have understood before—a sign of prosperity. Or what my father wanted me to see.
About the way we interact.
But, at least now—
A little less stubborn and a little more willing—
I think I can finally see.
 adapted line from Einstein's Dreams (2004) by Alan Lightman
 from "The Space Between" (2006) by Lia Purpura
 from Le symbolisme dans la mythologie grecque (1966) by Paul Diel
Copyright 2008, Christopher Allen Varlack. © This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be reproduced, reprinted, reused, or altered without the expressed written permission of the author.
Christopher Allen Varlack is a poet and essayist writing in the lyric essay and rhizomatic forms. He holds a Bachelors of Arts cum laude from Loyola College in the field of communications and writing, and is also enrolled at the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program. His work has appeared in journals like Talkin' Blues and across the competition circuit in programs such as youngARTS, Scholastic Arts and Writing, and NAACP ACT-SO. He teaches English at Grace Bible Baptist School in Maryland where he spends his free time writing and tutoring students in language arts.