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"Words' Worth" Poetry Readings

Poets at the Culture, Arts, and Parks Committee of the Seattle City Council.

Beneath The Heavy Lid by Paul Hunter

Late coming home the first day
fourth grade school half a dozen blocks away
when I ask what kept her she answers
she was just walking with friends

but next day an hour late she appears
I wonder how far it could be
and what on earth could be keeping her
she looks up with those big dark eyes
and changes the subject so deftly

third afternoon I take the car
park half a block up a side street
hunker down to see what I can see

and at the bell watch the kids
come gushing forth like a wave
that splashes around the schoolyard
then puddles for the slog home
and all at once there she is
small alert and cheery beautiful
with a ragged cluster of girls
that pinwheel about one another
and like a fountain skip and twirl

until the first turn up the side street
toward our house she lags behind
and in the middle of this intersection
stops at a barricade
a yellow metal railing set around
a white canvas tipi with orange
safety cones and at curbside
a utility truck with all its flashers going

that's it a little canvas tent
set up over a manhole

and thank God she looks both ways
and thank God doesn't spot me
when she skips across to the rail
calls down and a moment later
up pops one smiling middleaged guy
then another younger pokes out through the flap

and waves her back to the curb
where she retreats to banter
across ten feet of blacktop
with them for the next half-hour

and I can't hear what they're saying
except there is knowledge and pleasure
in this whole interchange

and know this is what she can't tell me
she has somehow been caught by
this little gypsy encampment
right in our humble neighborhood
that let her steal a peek in under
the circus tent to a whole other world

and later when she's skittered out of sight
I walk by thinking maybe have a word
with these two public employees
but what to say exactly baffles me

as standing there a moment I can get
the flavor of their hideout's heat and light
its clanky music from some tiny radio
its goodnatured sweating and cursing
tunafish baloney peanutbutter
life in an old dented thermos

amid all the damp wires and plumbing
gas mains storm drains pungent rivers
drawing raccoons rats opposums
in tunnels that flow all directions
underneath the city miles and miles
that knit together everything
we could ever think to depend upon
desire beyond a whim to want to know

its underground truth
the exact opposite of Santa Claus
how we plan and make do for each other
and hide it out of harm's way
not once a year but every day

and here's the terrible thing of it
you don*t want to spy on your kids
but for a while so open and innocent
trusting walk right up to anyone
these days you worry every hint

where she stands at some yellow steel railing
talking in some rusty steel-rimmed hole
peering down into the future
full of light sound and wonder
banging and shouting
sensing almost the whole secret
to this lowdown hollowed-out old world

no matter in broad daylight here we are
the heart of 42nd and Fremont
where what could happen
but a little curiosity

see I can't teach her much of anything myself
can't even be around to watch
like in the beginning
here she is going off on her own
already where I can't follow

and there will be more stops like this
more doors to somewhere
that are not about me but
what is coming to be all hers dark and light

and when I get home all set
to tell her what to watch out for
there she is back to the childsplay
clowning dressing up so sweet
I don't have the heart to lift the lid

and for the rest of the week
until the little tent is folded
the cover clanged on the manhole
the big city truck flown away
every day I ask her how's her day
she answers nothing and everything
to which I nod and don't listen
but look deep down into her where
powers run light reaches waters pool

This page was last updated: January 8, 2000
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