My little boy and I are standing
in front of the Reichstag, which is burning
and coalescing with rich and complicated
history right there in front of us, but
he doesn’t particularly care, in fact
he’s not even looking at the damn thing,
having focused all his attention instead
on a tiny, intricately tattooed
black and red beetle at his feet.
A firebug, he says, and I know he’s right
because we looked it up online last week.
You see them all the time here in Berlin,
or at least he does, and there is really nothing
more exciting for him, at least at the moment,
than to see a firebug moving through the grass.
And I know that the Firebug Era will soon
come to an end, to be replaced by the
Getting Stoned and Drunk and Calling Me
from Jail Era, to be followed by
the Buying His First Condom Era
which in time will lead to the Moving
Into His Own Place Era which I fear
because my own Ice Age is not that far off
and I will not roam the Earth much longer,
huge and carnivorous and terrifying,
frightening smaller creatures with my roar,
lowering my great bulk to kneel alongside
a small boy to watch the firebug, inscribed
with its ancient and inscrutable hieroglyphics,
crawl past us in front of some old building.
This is a flower. The flower is in a pot.
The flower needs sunlight and soil
and water to live, and he’s getting
a lot of it wrong, my son, and some
of it right, sitting on my lap
with his illustrated reading book.
I look beyond the yellow daisy
to the red barn in the distance.
Why is the door closed? What’s going on
in the barn’s unknowable darkness?
The horses are in there breathing,
standing up as they dream. The goats
are wondering why the farmer
hasn’t come to let them into the day.
The pigs are wondering this too,
but at a higher level, as pigs are very smart.
Perhaps the farmer is lying in bed,
dead of a heart attack. Or he and his wife
were surprised by a flare-up of the ancient
original fire that blazed into marriage
and a farm and a fine boy like this boy
on my lap, for whom reading is not
coming easily, who makes me proud
when he gets it right, but it’s when
he gets it wrong, when his voice thins
and falters before the inscrutable word,
that I love him unbearably, thinking back
to long division and the terrible fractions
with their unlike denominators.
How I burned at my desk in tiny failure.
Son, let’s go into the dark barn and listen
to the horses breathing. Let’s hide out there
together, for as long as we can.
George Bilgere's seventh collection of poems, Blood Pages, came out last year from the University of Pittsburgh Press. His books have received the May Swenson Poetry Award, the Midland Authors Prize, the Autumn House Poetry Prize, the Devins Award, and the University of Akron Poetry Prize. He has received a Pushcart Prize, an NEA grant, a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation at the Library of Congress, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Sewanee Review, Hopkins Quarterly, and elsewhere. He teaches at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and two fine sons.