“My fort, it’s over here. It’s secret and mine. I’ll show it to you. Only once, though. Big people aren’t supposed to be here.”
By Tom Sheehan
Through the long slanting of the gray day
I, mute and immobile, watched my son through
The window, saw him use hands as tools, arms
Working hard as crowbars, an energy split of
The sun, my atom building a fort housed of dreams.
Oh, years close such ugly jaws between father
And son, between the old and the dreaming,
Between the looking back and the looking forward,
So I cheat sometimes and think the looking back
Has more magic, the greater reserves of splendor.
It happens when I stop at task to breathe against
The hot sun or feel the night with a caress
Faint but daring as a girl once known near darkness.
Looking back is more than perfume time; it’s past
Perfume, past touch, past the wonder of guessing.
It’s back in the prehistory of dreams and daring
When I was him and building a fort to house dreams
And perhaps my father loved me from a window.
It’s touching on the magic of Roland and Arthur,
On Charlemagne, Richard who roared, and red-crossed
Phalanxes moving as a wedge at a word or cry.
It’s where Beowulf has gone, to a land and time
Not to be known by me again, to a place called
Childhood, the true democracy of imagination.
Looking, I was delirious for him, felt the happy
Stones banging the barrel of my chest for him;
He was knowing what I had known and lost along
The way like a red-lit caboose cutting a curve
In the dimness that was my little years.
I ached, knowing that I had come of age, of importance,
That my little dreams are cries for peace
And sweat is sold for food to fill his mouth.
The world had fallen in my path and I had scaled
A mountain away from him. I wanted to leap
Chuteless from its peak into his time, to know
Once more the sense of glory and romance
In all things the mind has fingers for.
In the evening, pink threatening red on the horizon,
He finally came to me, the seven years of him
And a day of his days enfolding more mystery than fog.
“Come with me,” he said, eyes of miners’ lamps,
A face blacker than coal is black, where dirt
Had so much freedom you would think he had never
Been clean, had never been discomforted by soap.
“My fort, it’s over here. It’s secret and mine.
I’ll show it to you. Only once, though. Big people
Aren’t supposed to be here.”
Quiet, motionless as a beached ship, the fort
Was built against a split-trunk maple tree;
Limbs bare and black hung over a pit nearer
Darkness than all the caves I had known.
Canopied arms rigid over a small darkness
Huddling like a rabbit down the barrel of a rifle.
I turned back on myself, into dreams, onto pages
Long since read. Ah, how high and strong its walls,
Built of stones I dared not move, set magically
With a mortar I could not mix. Passageways
And tunnels with dumb mouths stared back,
Mysteries leaped, dangers crept, silent
As Sicilian Vespers. Hamlet’s father would walk
Such walls. Quasimoto lurked quietly overhead.
Lafitte, Long John Silver, Grendel, shared the dark.
On my spine ice began to flow. I was knowing again
The lost land, the lost time, the lost dreaming.
He crept along the wall, motioned for me to follow,
Whispered a sound I’m helpless to repeat and can’t forget
As if a ghost of me were calling on a cold gray moor.
Back, still back, I went, spinning in a machine
Tumbling off my hard edges, knowing the deliciousness
Of fright, savoring one grand moment in a life
So old to magic. And he huddled, my son, my coming man,
For a moment, for a split second of forever, against
The high walls of his childhood. I dared not move
For fear I’d break them down.
The story was previously published on The Good Men Project.
About Tom Sheehan
Sheehan, in his 92nd year, has recently published his 43rd and 44th books,
“Small Victories for the Soul,” and “The Grand Royal Stand-off and Other Stories.”
The Good Men Project gives people the insights, tools, and skills to survive, prosper and thrive in today’s changing world. A world that is changing faster than most people can keep up with that change. A world where jobs are changing, gender roles are changing, and stereotypes are being upended. A world that is growing more diverse and inclusive. A world where working towards equality will become a core competence. We’ve built a community of millions of people from around the globe who believe in this path forward. Thanks for joining The Good Men Project.