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When it had flown first
he felt like an idiot
to have spent a nervous night,
doubting the wind at the park
was strong enough for kites.
But Roger said, “You wait. It’ll go.”
They’d seen the scud of clouds fill up
with rows of diamond and delta
and box kites — Indian fighting kites,
a shock of hibiscus on the pale
tweed suit of the sky.
His was no beauty:
dowel and glue and butcher paper,
but it flew on the third try
when his brother turned a little toward the bay,
the two of them running north, northeast.
Then taking the spindle back,
he eased the cord in starts,
as it tugged or pulled away,
and for almost half an hour
he watched the thing become a stamp,
a thumbprint in the gray,
and then, imperceptible, a narrow smoke,
a speck that might have been a bird
above the grounding tension of his grip.
Well before he was sure, the string went slack,
bowing and never going tight,
though the brothers squinted for ages
into the inlet air.
They found it in an oak,
a full sixty feet above the parking lot,
too high for pulling down.
“We’ll make another,” Roger said, and so they left.
And it seemed to the kite,
tethered in the tree,
that they were leaving for the first time:
the flight before, just kids
agreeing to lose themselves
for an hour or two
and then, in silent counting
reel each other in.
But the boy with the strong hands
turned and walked away
and crossed the street,
until at last, far into the bright day
he disappeared from view.
He used to tell stories:
how my mother would visit him at Oxford
and cook three-course meals on a single burner
while they sported the oak,
which, he explained, meant they kept
the heavy wood door chained.
In the end, he drank so much
telephone calls didn’t reach him.
They fell through the wire,
and you shied from his thick, warm voice.
His great chest shrank at seventy:
the captain of the first XV,
the rugger boy who scored three tries
the day I was born.
In the hospital
nurses fluttered like sheets
along the hallways;
through the window, a garden party sky.
I thought of that wartime summer,
the one all Englishmen seem to remember
whether they were alive, or not yet born,
or dying in the air in Spitfires.
He was a kid then,
lugging books and his gas mask.
A part of that world was his —
the tea on the grass,
and the big beneficent clouds, promising
they would also be there
that day in Kelowna.
But he didn’t speak.
I made an awkward joke to his jaundiced head
about how I hadn’t expected to see him so soon,
and took my place.
His breathing filled the room.
When it stopped, his wife cried
and shouldered out,
ignoring my mothering arms.
I crept back in before they took his eyes,
kissed his yellow brow,
our skin briefly the same.