The Little Review
Making No Compromises With the Public Taste
Poem for Tuesday 
Tuesday, 1st November 2005 12:02 am

Oracle
By Tom Sleigh


Because the burn's unstable, burning too hot
in the liquid hydrogen suction line
and so causing vortices in the rocket fuel

flaming hotter and hotter as the "big boy"
blasts off, crawling painfully slowly
up the blank sky, then, when he blinks

exploding white hot against his wincing
retina, the fireball's corona searing
in his brain, he drives with wife and sons

the twisting road at dawn to help with the Saturday
test his division's working on: the crowd
of engineers surrounding a pit dug in snow

seeming talky, joky men for 6 a.m., masking
their tension, hoping the booster rocket's
solid fuel will burn more evenly than the liquid

and keep the company from layoffs rumored
during recess, though pride in making
chemicals do just what they're calculated to

also keys them up as they lounge behind
pink caution tape sagging inertly
in the morning calm: in the back seat, I kick

my twin brother's shin, bored at 6:10 a.m.
until Dad turns to us and says, in a neutral tone,
Stop it, stop it now, and we stop and watch:

a plaque of heat, a roar like a diesel blasting
in your ear, heatwaves ricocheting off gray mist
melting backward into dawn, shockwaves rippling

to grip the car and shake us gently, flame
dimly seen like flame inside the brain confused
by a father who promises pancakes after,

who's visibly elated to see the blast shoot
arabesques of mud and grit fountaining up
from the snow-fringed hole mottling to black slag

fired to ruts and cracks like a parched streambed.
Deliriously sleepy, what were those flames doing
mixed up with blueberry pancakes, imaginings of honey

dripping and strawberry syrup or waffles,
maybe, corrugated like that earth, or a stack
of half-dollars drenched and sticky...?

My father's gentle smile and nodding head --
gone ten years, and still I see him climbing
slick concrete steps as if emerging from our next door

neighbor's bomb shelter, his long-chilled shade
feeling sunlight on backs of hands, warmth on cheeks,
the brightness making eyes blink and blink...

so like his expression when a friend came
to say goodbye to him shrunken inside
himself as into a miles-deep bunker...

and then he smiled, his white goatee
flexing, his parched lips cracked but welcoming
as he took that friend's hand and held it, held it

and pressed it to his cheek... The scales, weighing
one man's death and his son's grief against
a city's char and flare, blast-furnace heat melting

to slag whatever is there, then not there --
doesn't seesaw to a balance, but keeps shifting,
shifting...nor does it suffice to make simple

correspondences between bunkers and one man's
isolation inside his death, a death
he died at home and chose...at least insofar

as death allows anyone a choice, for what
can you say to someone who's father or mother
crossing the street at random, or running

for cover finds the air sucked out
of them in a vacuum of fire calibrated
in silence in a man's brain like my father's

-- the numbers calculated inside the engineer's
imagination become a shadowy gesture as in Leonardo's
drawing of a mortar I once showed my father

and that we admired for its precision, shot raining
down over fortress walls in spray softly pattering,
hailing down shrapnel like the fountain of Trevi

perfectly uniform, lulling to the ear and eye
until it takes shape in the unforgiving
three dimensional, as when the fragile,

antagonized, antagonistic human face
begins to slacken into death as in my own
father's face, a truly gentle man except

for his work which was conducted gently too --
since "technicals" like him were too shy for sales
or management, and what angers he may have had

seemed to be turned inward against judging
others so the noise inside his head was quieter
than most and made him, to those who knew him well,

not many, but by what they told me after he died,
the least judgemental person
they'd ever known -- who, at his almost next to last

breath, uncomplaining, said to his son's
straining, over-eager solicitation,
-- Is there something you need, anything?

-- That picture -- straighten it...
his face smoothing
to a slate onto which light scribbles what? a dark joke,
an elegant equation, a garbled oracle?

--------

Ah, Halloween is as much fun for parents as it is for kids, I think. Though that may be the excess chocolate talking. After writing up news bullets in the morning and organizing a project to make goofy glasses out of foam cut-outs with stars, bells, ribbons and the like, I went to the elementary school and helped set up for my fourth grader's party. Unlike last year when it rained so hard that the parade had to be held inside the school, it was another gorgeous day -- almost too warm, as the temperature was in the 70s and all the kids in latex masks and velvet capes were overheating! (I bailed on both my Starfleet uniform and my witch's cape and hat when I discovered the weather and only wore my Sirius Black Azkaban shirt.) The parade, which my husband and mother attended, was extremely entertaining as there are a wider range of costumes than when my older one was there -- no dozens of Pokemon and Power Rangers. Then, in the classroom, the kids made gingerbread houses using school milk cartons as a base, ate cupcakes and other junk, worked on the glasses and were all set to play bingo but we ran out of time.

I had to walk home without my son, who had Mad Science in the afternoon, carrying his gingerbread house, costume and the Sally Foster wrapping paper which always gets delivered on Halloween because so many parents are in the school anyway. Older son arrived home in a good mood because he and one other boy in his math class had won some competition and received Einstein glasses with attached noses and moustaches. When apaulled got home not long after the kids, we carved the main pumpkin, toasted its seeds, put it and the candles on the stoop, filled the bowl with candy and had our first trick or treaters before 6 p.m. as it was already dark -- woe! But if the clocks have to go back, one day before Halloween is really a nice time for it, since the kids are waiting for dusk so they can go circle the neighborhood. Hubby took them around one cul-de-sac and I took them around the other, the put them in the van and took them to my parents' so they could see the kids' costumes and they could see their grandparents (who have been out of town for a week visiting west coast relatives; the other set of grandparents are also on the west coast now). By a little after nine, the deluge had stopped -- we gave out six bags of candy, had only six or so pieces left over, mostly peppermint patties which makes me happy -- and we watched Monday Night Football.


A rock star, a werewolf, a shark, a pirate...as you can see it was gorgeous weather but I bet some of these kids were melting.


My son's cluster of desks at school is right in front of the teacher's desk and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, is all male.


Here is the whole class. There are still some alarmingly traditional trends among costumes according to gender.


Too young to be a student but OMFG CUTE. (This is the same little boy from the pool party.)


Once a year I post a photo of my children that is not locked. Here is this year's installment. *g*


This year's main pumpkin out in front of the house.
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Tuesday the county has no school so teachers can prepare report cards -- gblvr! I have no idea where my brain was when I said I could have lunch! So I will have my children with me to celebrate my anniversary with perkypaduan, whom I met in line at Best Buy the day Attack of the Clones came out -- we must get Revenge of the Sith together! (Of course my real reason for being at the store that morning was to get the extended Fellowship of the Rings, as was hers, but if she had not set my slashdar off by mentioning Highlander I might have left her to the hottie in line instead of getting her phone number, heh.)
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