Sunday, August 3, 2014


Editor's note: As parents know, sometimes incidents from our children's growing up years that seem dire when they occur look much different from the perspective of years later. I hope you like this poem. Libby


A poem by Charles Patrick Norman

A rusted barbed wire fence separated our
backyard from Mister Bonham’s forty-acre
cow pasture ruled by Big Red, a White-faced
Hereford bull, called that because
of the curly-blond locks that grew upward
to where massive horns sprouted, jutting
out from the sides of his towering head.

I longed to climb the apple tree a hundred
feet away, deep within the forbidden zone
where we were not allowed to play
or go, upon penalty of facing our mother’s
wrath, or threats of the minotaur’s goring.
I had run the gauntlet short weeks before,
but unripened green fruit, so sour, puckered my lips.

Now-ripe red orbs beckoned to a seven-year old boy,
Siren song calling across the empty field of grass,
Big Red and his harem far on the other side.
Surely Eve faced no greater temptation when
offered to partake of the tree bearing knowledge
of good and evil in that lost garden, and
neither was I any stronger than she had been.

A fair fall day, sun shining, my brother, Dan, not
yet three, slightly-built, stood beside me,
both of us barefoot and shirtless, hands on
the fencing, we stared at the apple tree. Do you
want to help me pick some apples? Of course
he nodded, smiling, safe, our mother tending baby Tom.
I held up the bottom wire and we scuttled through.

How many enchanted children had climbed those
gnarled branches before me I could not comprehend,
in harvest seasons come and gone. The bounty
belonged to us now, the only question how to get
the luscious fruit from high above to down below
without bruising. Hold out your hands, Dan,
I said, Catch it! He tried, apples bouncing

off his tiny hands, hitting his head
and tumbling to the ground, oh well.
Here’s another, Dan, try to catch it. Bounce,
hit, roll, didn’t matter, he was all right
at least he had broken the apple’s fall.
When we had four I climbed even higher
to pluck two more. We should have gone.

Just a little higher, just out of reach, I stretched
for the best one yet, a dark red apple
so perfect  in color, shape and form I had
to have it. The tree lured me past reason.
I heard Dan, far below, call, Charles,
then Charles again, before I looked down to
see him pointing, repeating one word, Bull, bull!

I looked out through branches and leaves swaying.
Dan called out, Bull! again. My heart
double-thumped at the sight of Big Red
rumbling toward us, dual horns held high,
faster and faster he came to deal with interlopers
invading his territory. Throat constricted in dread,
I couldn’t call out, then finally screamed, Run, Dan, Run!

Scattered apples forgotten, I jumped the last few feet,
fell, scrambled up and ran after my little brother, who
cried out, making uh, uh, uh sounds. I saw
his little legs, pumping so fast they seemed to blur
as I passed him, running with all my might
toward the barbed wire fence an eternity away.
Too afraid to look back, I felt the earth tremble in dread.

No time to slow, I dove head first beneath
the wire, slid on my stomach, felt steel
talons slice long thin lines down my bare back.
At last I looked back at Dan, so small, so fast,
face contorted, eyes wide, Big Red behind him, closing
distance. Run, Dan, Run! I screamed again. Holding
up the bottom wire fencing for him, he barely ducked

his head and was through — except a barb snagged
the waist band at the back of his little drawers —
he was caught! — or so he thought, and screamed,
thinking Big Red had him, running in place, another tug,
then he was free. Big Red pulled up, snorted, turned away,
done with us this day. Then we saw our mother on
the back porch, jaws clenched, not done with us at all.

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