Arts & Culture » Culture

American Life in Poetry

Every parent can tell a score of tales about the difficulties of raising children, and then of the difficulties in letting go of them. Here, Texas poet Walt McDonald shares just such a story.

Some Boys are Born to Wander

From Michigan our son writes, How many elk?

How many big horn sheep? It’s spring,

and soon they’ll be gone above timberline,

climbing to tundra by summer. Some boys are born to wander, my wife says, but rocky slopes with spruce and Douglas fir are home.

He tried the navy, the marines, but even the army wouldn’t take him, not with a foot like that.

Maybe it’s in the genes. I think of wild-eyed years

till I was twenty, and cringe. I loved motorcycles, too dumb to say no to our son—too many switchbacks in mountains, too many icy spots in spring.

Doctors stitched back his scalp, hoisted him in traction like a twisted frame. I sold the motorbike to a junkyard, but half his foot was gone. Last month, he cashed

his paycheck at the Harley house, roared off with nothing but a backpack, waving his headband, leaning into a downhill curve and gone.


First published in New Letters, Vol. 69, 2002, and reprinted from A Thousand Miles of Stars, 2004, by permission of the author and Texas Tech University Press. Copyright 2002 by Walt McDonald. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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