Portrait of My Son from Several Angles
By Tracy Mishkin
We go to museums and photograph
the art. Perched on the edge of the fountain,
he raises his arms to the light.
Tall and blond at four, he sees
a map of the United States
in the drought-cracked ground.
He loves puzzles, pieces face-down.
Hates surprises, even ice cream.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” he says
after the car accident. “Harriet Tubman
was hit on the head much harder.”
At art camp, he draws dinosaurs
for every project, including Father’s Day.
At eight he cannot ride a bike
or tie shoes. We buy Velcro sneakers.
He reads The Wizard of Oz. Ignores
other children, refuses Harry Potter.
Another parent-teacher conference.
Only child, only grandchild.
He waited to talk until he could do it right.
I never said he had to be perfect.
In the kitchen, he said, “Rice, rice,
He loves history but can’t learn
from his mistakes. Ashamed
when he repeats them, he smacks
his head and says, “I’m stupid!”
After Halloween he asked to wear
my purple tights. I didn’t answer
until it was too late to sound casual.
His high school classmates don’t mock
his vivid tie-dye socks or leopard-spotted shirts.
Other parents brag about their kids.
I tell them he is taking Latin. Omit
that he still picks his nose. Don’t mention
the tights. The way he clings to me.
When he got suspended for a torrent
of cursing, my mother made him wash
her car. He calls her Boot Camp Grandma,
likes to mow her lawn. Mulches around
her cherry trees.
Tall and dark at sixteen, he stops to stare
because a piece of gum on the sidewalk
resembles Pennsylvania. He has not entirely
grown out of Pokémon. Doesn’t want
a cell phone.
He brushed his hair when he discovered
girls. Then he stopped brushing it—
girls like him slightly rumpled. He says
he finds his cousin strangely attractive.
I am afraid he will do something crazy.
He hugged a stranger. Kissed a teacher.
Said he wanted to shoot everyone at school.
Before getting out of the car,
he holds onto me like a drowning man.
“There’s always some -ism in the airport.
You just don’t know if it’s terrorism, Buddhism, or autism.”
The teenager with the lumpy backpack
and iPod dances next to the sign:
Indianapolis 11:00 am. Light brown hairs smudge
his lip. His wrist sports a knuckle Band-aid,
and his knee socks are yellow, pink, and blue.
The gate agent follows him with her eyes.
The young man is staring behind her counter.
He shakes as if he is having a seizure
or a new song has started, the beat faster,
more insistent. He drums on the counter
and throws his arms into the air, singing
a few words loudly. The agent lays her hand
on the telephone. The boy’s mother scoops him up
like a Huey gathering the wounded at Khe Sanh.
Her gaze lays down covering fire for their retreat.
About the Author
Tracy Mishkin is an MFA student in Creative Writing at Butler University. Her chapbook, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Thirteen years ago, she left a tenured position in academia to return to her hometown, Indianapolis, to ensure her son Noah could find an appropriate education. Currently, she resolves health insurance problems at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Noah is a senior at Herron High School.