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Behind the Page

On a New Year’s afternoon of low leaden clouds, Don opened

to me the door of his house on Laurel Hill Road.

It felt smaller than most in Greenbelt,

crammed with bookshelves, album and cassette cases,

stacks of flashy-covered brochures about crop rotation

and soil conservation on end stands beside riven

chunks of porous blue-and-tan scoria,

but snug—imbued with the life it harbored.

On the round dinner table sat a platter of Pfeffernüsse.

I presented a sheaf of essays and poetry Don

invited me to bring—“You dive into

ideas I’d never think of but sound like my own.”

He handed me the first (maybe only)

chapter of his novel: having evaded

the death the Vietnam draft might have dealt,

Don drove from Saskatoon to Regina pursued

by a “mystic, alcoholic” Native bent on ending him

for unknowingly defiling a tribal holy site.

The hook compelled me to crave more.

Better, Don encored with his real story.


He cut his teeth on the New Left

at Kenyon College, uprooting himself to that

scholarly enclave in Ohio’s hills

from the Rust Belt’s Mohawk Valley outpost of Utica.

He and everyone he knew there grew up

“bastard children of welfare mothers.”

Don and his Kenyon camp heckled the college

president’s speeches, picketed ROTC

and the school’s recruiter. He told me

of a book’s photograph of the early

Bolsheviks caucusing in some Zurich café:

“They looked like they could have been just like us—

young, zealous, eager to remake the world.”

He befriended an exile from the Prague Spring’s

quashing who “wore the clothes of a leftist hippie,”

the standard ironic Army surplus shirt

and ragged jeans, all he could afford;

“Only we spoke to him, although

politics like ours stole his home.”


Don didn’t say how he fed himself

north of the border; returning with Carter’s amnesty,

he arrived in Greenbelt on winning a job

with the government he had run away from,

writing some ten miles from its seat

on the research farm at our ridge’s other foot.

He knew little of working earth,

but his editor touted glossing over the technical—

“He says science reporting can be as exciting as

the sports page.” Election to GHI’s board

ensconced him further in his new terrain.

Greenbelt Homes Inc., Don's and my housing cooperative

As we snacked and gabbed, desultory snowflakes

drifted to ground like the first plaster chips from

a cracking ceiling. I didn’t think

to ask myself why a man my father’s age should

welcome me into his home, sweetening the heavier snowfall

I departed through like the cookies’ rime of sugar,

or share a past pungent as their anise;

I didn’t think to foresee his gift of strength

when bread turned bitter, when home began to collapse.

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