Playtime in the Toy Chest of Myth and History

A Peter Pan for the Working Man


Shadows lengthen from us all. Hard places in our persons block the sun and wither us before our time.

A part of us doesn’t go to the infant crying.

A part of us longs for other work not because the work we have is meaningless or too hard but because we have something else we’d rather be doing. We’d rather be defining that idea we’ve nursed in our darkness on the cliff edge of what’s possible.

Part of us pursues a fantasy over the familiar peck of the love we have—a bird that comes to feed from our hands and has for years. She’s an amazement no matter how time has changed her, the bird we forget to see and sometimes, forget to feed.

So what do we do then with these parts, embodied in the long shadow-person sown with unseen stitching to our soles?

We can fly firm and gentle love to the child. We can turn for now from the abyss of our fancy, back to the tilling we know, releasing that grudge sinking us into an early grave. No more supposing that grudge is an amulet to evoke the muses. The wondrous beyond mingles in our toiling.

Clad in autumn leaves and cobwebs, we can steal a kiss from the silken head of our sparrow before she flies. She keeps a thimble we can fill with our soul. Our shadow and all can fly with her to that place where, since we never age, we’ll have time to figure out how to pin down our shadows long enough to become friends.


My Skipping Stone

I found it on an ocean shore on a sunny day when I was nine, at a campground lost to me now on the other side of the watery body of time. Charcoal-colored, piranha-shaped, and shocked by veins of white, with one side ridged, the other side straight as a razor to cut across the waves.

The stone, if flicked just right by the wrist, could skip across to the far shore, and in that way, unite me with the happiness I felt unfair fathoms had separated me from.

I pocketed it—stowed it safely away, this perfect stone for the perfect day. When I felt all was most right in my life, when the sun slanted through outstretched boughs ever so sublimely, I’d skip it across a body of water, to the other side and be complete.

The rest of my life is waiting for the day to skip my perfect stone.

This day? Our wedding guests on the shore, wringing their hands over when my bride and I would return from our impromptu rowboat getaway.

This day? The head pediatric surgeon at Swedish, a fierce Columbian, wrenching my son out of my wife at dawn. My shrieking the news HE’S HERE, HE’S HERE, muffled his phlegmy cry. I played the part of mad Messianic devotee raving that I was glad to have lived to see his arrival.

Though these were perfect days, my stone remains unskipped, waiting for a more perfect day I know will never be. The stone then isn’t a hope for a better day, but a charm in my pocket that I thumb through hours wan and drab, knowing I have already lived.



In ancient Rome, those who would inherit the land were given an amulet, complete with the family seal. Called the Bulla, this medallion symbolized a child’s unalterable place in the family’s future.

How did the felt figures of very Anglo-Saxon looking Jewish- Palestinian shepherds and the magical Sunday School stories of my tender years harden into a belief so ardent, I can almost feel its weight hang down as I tie my son’s shoes and set to rest upon my chest as I rise again to greet the day with him?

I could give it away or lose it. But I would awake to find this amulet of belief reaffixed around my neck, restored in the night, the way a father drapes the fallen blanket over his sleeping child, the way my aging father would when I would arrive jetlagged and red-eyed to collapse on his sofa. The blanket’s settle over me was as comforting as those Bullas must have been. I leaned into that tenderness the way a child leans into a rainbow parachute which reassures them that they are loved.


Our Little Red House on the Corner

What else could home be for us except a little red house on the corner—two dormers, white trim, picket fence? A place where, for better or worse, I am known. And I know the story of every nick and stain, the joys, the pains of the little red house on the corner.

What else could home be for us except a place neglected by its former owner? Ivy chokes the garden, flaking tiles scale the dormers. The gates never latch at the little red house on the corner, the slightest breeze letting in each draft. The problems slipping in unknown send my hands into an all-thumb fumble.

What else could home be for us except a playground for our little explorer, Pucky Prince of trains, planes, and tunnels of enthusiasms: hand dryers, puppies, Christmas tunes, kisses from Mommy—obsessions that delight us and terrify me because in the clutter of cuteness and whirlwind of his tears, I don’t feel known as fully, nor does my knowing circumscribe all in sight as a warm palm around a broken-winged sparrow. My hobbies, my whimsy, drowned out and decentered by my Baby Prince’s chatter. His needs diverge from what I can give. My knowing and loving fail in our little red house on the corner.

What else could home be for us other than a place that is ours for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, bound as we are to its idea long after we’ve moved, longer lasting than its imperfections which prove to be less weak spots in matter and more frailty of my heart. When we face each conundrum together, it lessens the strain. We are known. We know for better or worse.

We repair the fence, reroof the dormers, and make and remake peace with our son’s storms and morning light. When we trust that each brings what they can when the last towel of competition is thrown, we make and remake it our own, this little red house on the corner.


Who Needs a Name When You’ve Got Places to Go with People You Love

As a kid, I felt like a passenger in my life’s road trip, with places and faces passing by. Like this old neighbor who would holler at me Hey, Leroy!

He called every kid that. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know my name. He was happy to see me and that was enough. I didn’t care I didn’t have a name. It was enough just to be a little, happy person. This assurance assuaged my sense of being a small balloon with air seeping out, floating without aim in life’s sky.

In the driver’s seat, I still feel ill at ease. My eyes should be fixed straight, yet my gaze lists to the shoulders, wondering if I’ve missed something important that would make me certain working a job, fathering a child, loving a wife, keeping a house and my chest deflates, that little balloon again, when it should be the revving V8 of an all-terrain 4×4.

But I have hopes for the balloon and the 4×4. My son’s holding the balloon and at the wheel, I veer off-road, busting us through a guardrail and he’s giggling because we’re on our way to a new place to play.

Jack in the Box


Jack in the Box

Quiet and still

Will you come out?

Yes, I will


English Nursery Rhyme

Marquis and I share a planning period during which we bemoan our politick, idly threatening to move to Canada the same way we threaten to punch out the copy machine.

Early on, he said my name sounded familiar. I winced. Here it comes.

Ahmaud Arbery’s murders share my last name. I don’t have many black friends. I don’t know how to explain any of this to Marquis who smiles, You the heartbreak kid, aren’t you?

Sean Michaels. And we shoot the shit about pro wrestling for the rest of lunch. But a part of me stays sunken down inside my dark little house. Place I go to—a box which, like the box I check (white), I hate.

Maybe Marquis has a box too, like we all do: a bunker where we hide our inner child from history’s burdens which quake above like the beams of a rotting, crooked house.


School’s getting out. He asks me what I’m doing for Juneteenth and I say what most white people probably do: Nothing. He invites me to his house for a barbeque.

Juneteenth. I learned about it only a couple of years ago.

I’m twice stung when I hear about racist events, past and present. Stung by the headlines, stung by the slogans. Silence is Violence! Yes, but I’m not sure more words from a white guy is what anyone wants, especially when it comes to race. And there I lie at the bottom of a well in my mind, pretzeled while it all goes down.

Maybe reading another book would do me good. The new woke tomes on my nightstand beckon with the promise of lonely, austere shriving.

Marquis must notice that I’ve disappeared inside myself because he reminds me about his barbeque. So, you coming out?



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