BOOKS & THE CULTURE Foresight Had Uncle Hubert known when he strolled away from the asylum that the hundred miles back home to the farm would be his last long freedom, he might have stopped for pie in Pleasant Hill or hitchhiked part of the way. Motorcars were exciting then in rural Louisiana. Maybe he did daily; I know nothing of Hubert as a traveler. Or as an uncle. He was just a kid nineteen, I heard, or younger. After he got home, things were okay until again there were threats, murderous threats I’m told, and the family took Hubert back to Pineville where he stayed put fifty years except for walks on the grounds. As a child, I imagined a rescue dogs, barbed wire, Hubert hurried to the back seat of our old Chrysler. At dawn, my father would swing up the drive and my mysterious uncle would soon be settled into the middle bedroom. In fact, my father, seven children to support, close himself to breaking, fought like mad when the state threatened to release his only brother. I was ashamed of him, and scared: if I were Hubert, would he rescue me? But had I known that sacrifice, like freedom, has its limits, and what we do for our children we may not do for others, I might have thought before now of loss, and a man’s grief, as he Sunday-drove a hundred miles south to walk with his brother. Wasps Outside my son’s bedroom, in a fist-sized nest, yellow and black wasps doze on papery cells. I thwack the window pane, appalled that danger has come so close though my son is gone now, to college. Quarter-inch wings flare into fierce Vs; two wasps stare in, flicking antennae and legs. I, who admire fertility in any form but especially in late summer, curse the insects’ misfortune to have nested here. On our honeymoon, my husband surprised a hive of bees as we trudged home from a Greek beach. They stung his face, his nose, inside his ears. In panic, he knocked off his glasses so had to go back into the swarm while I, bikinied, begged the bees, “Oh! Stop! Stop!” Later, in our whitewashed room by the sea, we fell asleep to household pots and shouts, the drone of family life, which wasps know all too briefly and for that I do apologize. No one thing will bring us to safety or my son back home, I know that. I will kill them anyway. FRANCES SCHENKKAN Aresident of Austin, Frances Schenkkan has been a reporter for the Houston Post and was chair of the Austin Planning Commission in the early eighties. She has published a short story in the Austin Chronicle, and was awarded the Adele Steiner Burleson prize in poetry at U.T. She and her husband Pete have three sons. Schenkkan writes: “The poem about my uncle began last spring when I happened on his name, written out in full in my father’s handwriting in a genealogy. It moved me because I grew up thinking my father wanted Hubert forgotten. ‘Foresight’ and ‘Wasps’ attempt to describe a kind of hardening that prevents children at times from seeing adult grief and results in our doing things like killing wasps unnecessarily. Both poems were written while I pur sue a graduate degree in creative writing/English at U.T.Austin.” Naomi Shihab Nye The Observer’s poetry page is partially funded through a grant from the Austin Writers’ League, in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. OCTOBER 29, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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