Last summer into fall was a difficult time for my wife and me as we spent much of that time period essentially reunderstanding the events that we had lived through the previous year. Two summers ago, our son Daniel, who was two and a half at the time, was going through what seemed like a difficult period. He was moody and unpredictable in his behavior, and often refused to eat his dinner.
We’d used an early intervention service to help him with some minor effects of torticollis, a misalignment of the neck bones and muscles caused by how he lay in utero, and we brought the service back in to see if they could help us understand what we were seeing as behavioral problems. Giving credit where credit is due, it was largely my wife who felt something was not right with Daniel and sought out the help. Early intervention thought he could be experiencing a sensory disorder, but the symptoms didn’t quite fit.
Over the course of the next few months, the symptoms continued to get worse until Daniel suffered a few days of what seemed to be a stomach virus, and making a very long story short, was eventually diagnosed with a kidney tumor. The longer story, if you are interested, has been beautifully documented by my wife on Daniel’s CaringBridge site. Daniel underwent surgery and eighteen weeks of chemotherapy and has, thank God, remained cancer-free since then.
The next year, through, was a very haunted time for us, as the following summer and fall contained many milestones for us, moments where we understood events in a much different light. Moments when we remembered being frustrated with him for being cranky or fussy, lost our patience with him–now knowing in hindsight that the tumor (which eventually grew to the size of a softball, small actually for the size of some Wilms’ tumors believe it or not) was causing him pain and making it impossible for him to eat.
I started a series of poems during this period last year, in part to help with this sense of living backward, of reunderstanding our past. They are not the best poems I’ve ever written, but while I’m not that interested in trying to publish them, they do contain some of my experience in living through this, and represent the bulk of what little creative writing I’ve done in the past two years. I’ve decided to share some of the better ones on the OF [Blog], starting with this one:
The Orchard Ladder
This is you, in sunshine, just before.
At two and a half, you’ve climbed
up the splintered, ancient orchard ladder
into the papery leaves, into the fruit.
I am standing a few rungs below
as you reach with your small hand,
grasping another Cortland.
Your sister stands below, waiting
for her turn by your mother.
We’ve agreed–one time for each of you,
up the faded rungs. This much
we will risk. You pull,
tear free the apple, fall backward
and I catch you, my hand around
your round belly. You are laughing.
You hold out your prize, heavy
and colored by the autumn sun.
For all that we know, this is danger.
This is the most that we fear.
We move among the trees,
the apples growing heavy in our bag,
fruit ripe with summer’s sweetness
gathered as winter draws near.