David Lehman, poet and curator of the “Next Line, Please” column on our website, began a long poem when his son turned 17 to “perpetuate the poetics of innocence,” as he puts it. “As kids, we are natural poets, questioning everything, making pronouncements. Though a year may go by without my doing more than changing a comma, this poem remains a work in progress. I want to prolong the life of the thing and postpone the moment when I must say adieu. You want the magic to last, but the fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do.” Here are a few lines from “The Complete History of the Boy”:
The boy was mad at his mother who didn’t hang up
the phone right away when he fell and hurt his head.
He was indignant. “Hurts are more important than inventions.”
He dreamed his father died. “Mama told me in the car.”
When he woke up he climbed into bed with his father, happy.
He wanted to discuss the floor plan of the house:
“Is my room over the dining room?”
He wanted to know which was more important,
the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.
The former is a symbol of liberty, the latter a symbol
of industry, his mother explained. That clinched things
for the boy. He unhesitatingly chose liberty.
“Which is more important, religion or God?”
He was still five years old.
They found a special school for him.
He took classes in Magical Thinking and excelled
in the making of weird predictions and dire threats
that scared you even though you knew
they wouldn’t come true.
He also learned how to walk and talk in his sleep.