THE ARBORETUM
originally published in Might magazine, Feb/Mar 1996

1. The sky at suppertime is blue-violet, thistle, red-orange, and terracotta.

2. Romi wags his tail and snuffles at the base of the oak that you bump your heels into if you swing high enough.

3. At suppertime, Mama’s feet sink into the grass of the arboretum.

4. The arboretum stretches to the road.

5. Bedtime is at eight o’clock on school nights.

6. Mama’s white sundress snags on the prickles.

7. At the end of the arboretum is Sherman’s Road, which leads to Hadley, and the tobacco fields lie behind.

8. You may read for as long as you like in bed, as long as you act like a person in the morning.

9. Mama crouches in bare feet and pushes at the warm, dark earth with her fingers, her palms.

10. From the back porch you can see the garden with the red and white metal swing set, the cemetery, the arboretum, and the barn, sticking out from the side of the house.

11. If you want sugar cereal at breakfast, then no dessert at supper.

12. Mama’s hair is twisted and held with a leather barrette.

13. The house is white.

14. When the door to the downstairs study is closed, you may not knock unless it is an emergency that cannot wait.

15. When Mama loosens her hair, it drops thick and heavy along her freckled back.

16. The upstairs bathroom is white, pink, orange and red and has butterfly wallpaper.

17. If the door is closed, Poppy is working.

18. Mama’s throat is bare.

19. There is a photograph of an old Jewish man in a black hat on the wall of the back staircase.

20. Even if there is no typewriter noise, Poppy is thinking and that is working.

21. Mama grows sweet alyssum.

22. Music plays in the music room: Diabelli’s Four Hands, Lionel Hampton, I’m Really Rosie, The Roches.

23. If Poppy and Mama are having a discussion, then do not interrupt.

24. Mama grows dogwood.

25. There are chimes over the door between the kitchen and the barn.

26. When someone comes to look at Mama’s paintings you may play quietly or read a book.

27. Mama grows fuchsia and pussy willow.

28. The door doesn’t lock on the downstairs bathroom and there are magazines to read: Natural History, Commentary, The New Yorker, the Sears catalog.

29. You may make rubbings in the cemetery.

30. Mama grows foxglove, hyacinth and white birch.

31. There is a box of play-act clothes in the closet between Max and Rachel’s room.

32. You may have a popsicle.

33. When Mama stands and puts her hands on her hips, her breasts lift up inside her tee-shirt.

34. There is a lamp in the living room that is a lady, and her hat is the fringed lampshade.

35. Mama takes a few steps, stops, crouches, touches.

36. The shutters are black.

37. You may swing on the swings.

38. Mama talks to Romi as he snuffles by.

39. There is a felt bag of marbles in the sewing box.

40. You may roll down the front hill.

41. There is a round window over the front door.

42. If the sprinklers are on, you may play in them.

43. Poppy lies on his side in the grass.

44. The bookcases in the upstairs hallway are made of boards and cinder blocks.

45. You may not pick any of the flowers or any branches off the trees in the arboretum.

46. Poppy is a satyr in the grass.

47. The back stairs creak.

48. If you need paper, Poppy has boxes of scrap in his study.

49. Poppy rests his curly head on his palm.

50. The dresser in the dining room has a bowl of smooth stone eggs on it.

51. Sometimes Poppy goes for long car rides by himself.

52. The light glints off Poppy’s glasses.

53. The Datsun in the barn hasn’t been driven since 1972.

54. You may have a piece of fruit.

55. Poppy wears white cotton pants with a drawstring.

56. The bathtub upstairs has claw feet.

57. Those sounds mean that Mama and Poppy love each other and are making love.

58. Poppy wears no shirt in the grass and is tan.

59. The house was built in 1840.

60. Those are words that grownups use when they are angry.

61. Poppy is laughing.

62. There are old buttons and a porcelain scotty dog in a margarine tub in the pantry.

63. Don’t say those words.

64. His laugh his hard and short and skips across the evening air.

65. The rug by the front door is not taped down.

66. When Poppy is baking bread, we go for a walk in the cemetery until it is finished.

67. Poppy sits up.

68. Louise had her kittens under the front porch.

69. When the screen door slams and Poppy goes for a drive, there is macaroni and cheese for supper, or Domino’s.

70. Poppy stretches, then lies on his back in the grass, his hands folded behind his head and his legs crossed.

71. There is an old patchwork quilt on the wall of the front foyer.

72. If you play all together, then you all clean up.

73. Mama says something without turning around.

74. The driveway is steep and long.

75. No television.

76. Mama stands still.

77. When it rains, you walk barefoot down Sherman’s Road until you reach the river.

78. If Poppy is on television, you may watch.

79. Mama looks straight ahead and raises a flower slowly to her face.

80. In Spring, mulchy leaves clog the gutter.

81. When Mama has an opening, you may come, but you must let her do her work.

82. In one movement Poppy springs to his feet.

83. The front staircase banister is black and good for sliding down.

84. Poppy’s car is blue.

85. Mama begins to walk away, quickly.

86. The sofa in the music room is horsehair and itchy.

87. Don’t step where the bulbs are planted.

88. Poppy puts his hands on Mama’s shoulders in the arboretum.

89. The piano stool swivels and gets taller or shorter.

90. When Poppy sits down at his typewriter he coughs and bends his wire glasses around his ears.

91. Poppy pulls Mama down into the soft grass and their white clothes are ghosts snagged in the branches.

92. The oak in the arboretum is over two hundred years old.

93. When Poppy finishes a chapter he stands in the door of the downstairs study and yells, “Holy, holy, holy shit” or “ooooo-weeeee!”

94. When Poppy hits Mama in the face, she turns her head and he hits her again, by the car, and he shoves her.

95. Mama transplanted the iris from the home where she grew up in Indiana.

96. When Poppy turns around, he sees you on the porch eating a popsicle and tells you to go inside.

97. After Poppy finishes a book, the photographer comes and Mama wears her hair down.

98. An emergency is when someone is crying or hurt and Mama isn’t home.

99. When Poppy starts his car, it is dark out.

100. Mama floats among the growing things.