asphalt hurts less than concrete

From “The Lullabies Your Mom Didn’t Write for You”

I’m getting older than I thought I’d get.
I don’t yet have wrinkles, but I’m watching for them.
My mom had three kids when she was my age and
All I have is a degree and a job.

I haven’t talked to her lately. She hurt us too badly.
I think we’re all shattered from the way she just was
And she was made of concrete.

I watched from our front porch as the neighbors tore through their yard
To pour a U-shaped asphalt driveway in front of
A McMansion that never belonged in the Jewish ghetto of pre-2008 Detroit.
Their before-wealth driveway was hurled into a dumpster,
Towed away as intact slabs of unforgiving gray
Wholly unscathed because cement doesn’t yield.
Not for chisels. Not for children.
Not for husbands. Not for me.

We took turns rollerblading through their yard that summer
And none of the kids got hurt on their driveway
Except when I cut across the street, hit a loose rock

The fall lasted for .103 seconds.
The quickest thought I have ever had
Was in that moment: Keep your arms close.

Asphalt for small injuries, and my wrists stayed intact
But I tore out my kneecap, left seventh grade to the pavement,
Overloaded my nerve endings

Never rollerbladed again.

He slammed his head into cement for decades but
When my dad left his marriage, he became my father.
Barrelled through continents and communities just to be in my life
Chose to love us for the first time when he walked out of that door –
And it took twenty one years for him to do so.

I know how it ended, but I don’t know how it began.
I’m combing through the lullabies my mom didn’t write for me
To find any patterns I can track in the calamity.

My mom had three kids when she was 25.
All I have is a degree and a job

And a father who loves me.

I know because I’ve climbed out of many a window
– and leapt heartfirst into what I thought was love –
That starting with gravity is the easy part.
It takes .103 seconds to before you feel the most pain
Then it stops forever.

You deserve a slow love.

Not an Instant Pot stew or tonkotsu ramen – you
Deserve a Macallan Sherry Oak:
A single malt whisky that waits for 25 years
In an Oloroso barrel tucked away in Craigellachie.
When it finds its way to the US, to the locked display at your liquor store
You’ll drop $2500 on a bottle so you can taste every ring
Of each year that the tree spent rising from the Spanish dirt
Before it was made into a cask and shipped to Scotland
It seems cheap when you break it down:
One hundred dollars,
One for each year.

You deserve a love that grows like the tree
That will be felled to make your sherry butt:
Quercus robur with fewer rings per inch
Than the American oak that overruns the industry.
They take longer to reach maturity –
100 years to be precise.
25 dollars per year.

It took .103 seconds to hit the pavement,
But it only takes four for a felled oak to fall
Once you’ve whittled the notches and plunge-cut into
The front and the back on a windless day.
Your love should stay in the forest
And emerge from the cask with notes of sherry
If it’s one you won’t replace, it’ll take 127 years
From seed to uncapping
And then you’ll stop dividing
The price by its labor.
It compounds on its interest
It builds upon itself.

The child who planted the seedling in Jerez
Is not alive to mourn its departure
His work goes unnoticed, patched into a triangle
In a region full of oak trees – all just like his.
By the time the bottle tumbles through capitalism
Your receipt will stay in your wallet
The age stays on the bottle
Until it’s opened, until it’s empty
Until it’s recycled. It’s new again.

And you, woodland darling,
Deserve a Macallan Sherry Oak.
You deserve to build better days upon each one that passes.
One day it will be a home
Wraparound porch and lemonade on a swing chair, you’ll
Grow old there together. But that’s not for today.
Today you’ll meet in a cafe. And your love won’t start there.
But it’ll start with coffee. It’ll flow from slow drips.

It never has to be a waterfall to be.

I know you’d like the future now
You’d run your shins into splinters if it meant you didn’t have to
Walk calmly down the street
In silence until you get there.
Much like orgasms and Lord Voldemort
It’ll come when it comes.

It’ll always come.
I know you want it yesterday.
You deserve it slowly.
You’d swallow a pickle whole if you could;
You deserve it slowly.

Love may be patient and love may be kind
But love is also trusting and hopeful and rare
And I won’t ask my father about how his love came about.
When love lasts forever, all that matters is that it’s there.

© Chapin Langenheim, 2023

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