Walks | Blessing
From SIGN: A collection of stories by the members of Seventeen Syllables, curated by Guest Editor, Grace Loh Prasad, introduced here
Before he starts throwing things, before he begins the dog howl that turns into a crow screech, before he drags a chair over tiles, my wife Grace and I bring out the blue stroller that doubles as a wheelchair: “Brendan, let’s go for a walk.”
Our son calms instantly, plops down into the canvas seat by himself, waits for us to strap him in. Most days, I push him. Grace walks alongside with Bo, our dog. On the way Brendan points — which way to turn, which street to cross. He always wants us to be on the right side, cries if I don’t get on the sidewalk fast enough, if I don’t pass the dance studio with the thump of hip-hop, chords of Mozart, the wood floor, boys breakdancing in shiny nylon sweatpants, girls pirouetting in black leotards, our boy kicking his feet into the air, if I don’t pass Walgreen’s, push him over the bridge of the creek, down the planked walkway where bikes whizz past, “on your left, on your right,” past the community center where the old men play horseshoes, wave as we pass, and the big stucco house that was just built, the bend where the shade of spruces covers us, and we catch the scent of cedars, the ramp where he points right to go home or points straight ahead to keep going.
When I follow his path, he hums, a kind of bird babble. Though he can walk himself these days, he prefers the stroller — maybe so that he can sit back and enjoy the ride. Turning around, he smiles at us as we interpret his signs, get the route just right, looking pleased in his role as leader of this winding quest we make together with him, each walk around the neighborhood a way for Grace to reach her 10,000 steps, for me to de-stress and shed heaviness. Sometimes ideas pop up: a line for a poem, a beginning or a rhyme, and I am writing a different ending. I am Wordsworth and Basho on the mountain, Rilke at the statue of Apollo. Clouds rolling over, the redwoods tower.
Every walk brings us the way.
“He’s blessing his food,” my father says as Brendan walks around our kitchen island. He touches things softly, his finger like moonlight settling on the rim of a cup. “That’s coffee, Brendan,” I say, then he touches his chef salad lunch with ham, egg, and tomatoes, even lifts his cheese stick, still wrapped, to his mouth.
Brendan blesses my ice cold beer, my wrist, bananas he’s not allowed to eat, the phone. “Be careful,” we say when he blesses the cast iron pan as it sizzles with avocado oil and ketogenic offerings — chicken, hot dogs we fry for him. Then he blesses the steel canteen, the glass of water, as if each thing were a sacred object.
We could all learn more from his light touch, how to make our singular presence felt yet merge into all that’s around us: our loved ones, our food, our days, our nights, the months and decades that stretch out. Like a wand, his finger taps magic stars — they float upwards, filling our house with light.
Brian Komei Dempster’s debut book of poetry, Topaz (Four Way Books, 2013), received the 15 Bytes 2014 Book Award in Poetry. His second poetry collection, Seize, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in Fall 2020. Dempster is editor of From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps (Kearny Street Workshop, 2001) and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday, 2011). The nonfiction pieces included here are from his in-progress manuscript, Brendan’s Garden: Reflections on a Special Son.
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Art (cropped) Yasuo Kuniyoshi Public Domain