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Before I formed you in the womb, my son,
I knew you. Knew you long before that high
spring day in the sixth year of the reign
of FDR, when the full-leaved sycamores

that frame the tired river that runs East
smiled on your mother—just sixteen—and
your father, twenty-one, when they came
together in the city that never sleeps.

Yes, even then I knew you and loved you,
you uniquely you as that bent shad with its
mottled branches that will bloom again
come spring. Listen, son, for it is I

who have placed my words in your heart
and on your lips. For this is why I called you,
though it has taken you all these years
to understand this. Remember how, when you

were five years old? How even then you
would not stay there in your kindergarten
class in that old building there on Fifty-First?
Just two months after that B-25 clothed

in fog crashed into the Empire State Building
as the war was coming to its close. How you told
your mother it was time you learned to read
what those words there on those pages had to say?

How you had to understand those curves and dots
and glyphs so you could enter the bigger world
waiting for you just beyond? For wasn’t that
what books were for? And so on and on

it went from there, word by word by word,
from those crazy cartoon Katzenjammer Kids
to that witch that waited for children like yourself
in some ramshackle hut hiding in the woods,

a warning of what waited for you too, as on
you went from one book to another and then another.
Ah, the coalescence of those words, signs from
a thousand places as they blossomed, sounds of joy

and fear and wonder, sounds urging you on and on,
as you learned to echo back with words you learned
to fashion with crayon, pencil and pen, and later
with typewriter and computer, shaping world after

world as the words went spilling forth, and as
they will, until the eye no longer sees or the hand
no longer moves and the brain (but not the soul)
must at last empty into some vast Saharan desert.

—Paul Mariani

Image by Saadet YÜKSEL licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.