Portrait of My Son from Several Angles

Portrait of My Son from Several Angles

By Tracy Mishkin

I

We go to museums and photograph

the art. Perched on the edge of the fountain,

he raises his arms to the light.

 

II

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.

 

III

“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.

 

IV

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.

 

V

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,

rice!”

 

VI

He loves history but can’t learn

from his mistakes. Ashamed

when he repeats them, he smacks

his head and says, “I’m stupid!”

 

VII

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.

 

VIII

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.

 

IX

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.

 

X

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.

 

XI

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.

 

XII

I am afraid he will do something crazy.

He hugged a stranger. Kissed a teacher.

Said he wanted to shoot everyone at school.

 

XIII

Before getting out of the car,

he holds onto me like a drowning man.

Photo provided by Tracy Mishkin

Judgment Call

“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

Photo provided by Tracy MishkinTracy 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.

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