Wednesday, July 08, 2009


The South is a land of near horizons. Everything sits in the foreground. Trees, rivers, buildings, and people are always in sight. More of the same lies behind, but you can’t see it from here. So distance is skewed; places merely out of sight seem very far away.

Southern heat compounds the phenomenon. Our sun seems closer to Earth. Hot air touches your face and reaches into your clothes at every crossing between air conditioned corridors.

In a heat wave as we’ve been having, we spend our days indoors and too much time together. By midsummer each year the charming closeness of Southern life begins to grate.

But around noon, yesterday, the bottom edge of a passing front reached Baton Rouge to temporarily drop the humidity and whip up a breeze. It was a little taste of April, complete with wispy white clouds and the pale green backs of leaves turning against the wind. The kids and I broke out of the house after dinner to celebrate with a ride to the park.

I packed two canned lemonades, some plastic cups, a book and my wristwatch into the panniers on my bike. The girls threw on their shoes and helmets and rushed to the edge of the driveway to wait for me, kicking at the ground, as I gathered my things.

We found the park filled with engine noise. Eight young teens on four off-road vehicles spun donuts and leaped the creek bed in rapid single file. They raced a circuit around the several-acre wooded park, carrying the sound of their fun with them. Foul mouthed boys at full holler. My girls stuck close, dragging their feet in the playground sand and following the boys with their eyes and ears until their last decibel disappeared into the neighborhood.

“Can we check on the Fairy Home now?”

This is something I haven’t seen, a thing they discovered on a past visit—it’s a little hole in the base of a tree, near a bush, by a big log. It was their first secret place I never saw.

I told them to go ahead but to keep me in view. As they crossed the creek bed and passed the first line of trees, my girls grew smaller in my sight. They passed together into patches of sunlight and into shadows and finally vanished.

Our little neighborhood park grew suddenly huge. It was panoramic, an IMAX experience full of color and movement, too big to take in without turning your head. After five minutes, feeling silly, I stood up.

There, running. Two tiny figures sprinted across impossibly small distances beneath the oaks at the far border of the property. They made no sound but were probably laughing and hurling ultimatums at one another. Together they ran a third of the park’s circumference, about half a mile, before slowing to a walk. The sound of their voices reached me then, unintelligible but discernable from the calling crows and the whistling kites. They came back in to say the Fairy Home was gone.

My girls are mostly faces to me, I keep them so close. I direct them into their seats for dinner with a hand on their shoulders. We meet eyes across tables or board games or the living room sofa. But they have legs too and have learned how to use them. They’re good runners now, and for a while in the rare vastness of our little park they were unreachable.


mjh said...

This is a beautifully poetic piece. Thanks for writing it. peace, mjh

Cat Urbigkit said...

Ditto what mjh said - beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing.

PBurns said...

Perfect. Keep this one close by to read out loud at their weddings.


Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks a bunch guys. I tried to read it to the girls tonight but they didn't have the patience for it. :-)

Julie Zickefoose said...

All choked up here in Whipple, where my girl turns 13 on Saturday, and is 1/4" taller than I am.

Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

Matt Mullenix said...

Great poem!

Anonymous said...

Matt,my son, beautifully said. My girls continue to capture the heart of their old Pepa.
Love, DAD

Anonymous said...

I read this as my 15 year old daughter sits on the patio with a boy, a boy! Of all things, and my son and I trade quick fists as he exits for his job....


Anonymous said...

This is really nice. I have 4 daughters and two sons and this is the sort of thing I live daily. The piece is very well written.


Connie Farmer said...

Thanks Matt for a beautiful, touching piece. Our children do have legs and they use them to leave the nest way before we are ready to have them go.

Matt Mullenix said...

Paul, Mark, Connie--I appreciate your comments and parenting morale support! :-)