Jason Schneiderman



Somehow related to having entered my fifth decade of life,

childhood memories have started flooding back at odd moments.

Yesterday, I suddenly remembered a blue wall with white clouds

that a bunch of us kids were painting white so that the clouds

were just wall colored, or perhaps so the wall became cloud colored.

I felt the weight of the roller in my small hand, remembered

the feeling of the paint as it squished its whiteness over the blue.

I remembered a packet of novelty matches at a gift store in London,

the aisles of the store filled with toys and souvenirs, one plastic match

springing out like a penis, a glimpse of the pornographic that was

mostly hidden in the nineteen-seventies. The memories come unbidden,

little glimpses of a larger scene as I turn a corner, a tactile sensation

long gone as I try on clothes or start making lunch, relics of a past

so far gone as to be alien or unavailable, though some of the shames

still sting, and some triumphs return with a shock of pleasure.

Stan died yesterday, so it’s no surprise he’s been coming back to me

all day, memories of his office door with conference sign-up sheets

or the way he sat at my thesis defense, or the way I would work

myself into a hysteria about whatever poem I was about to show him,

my fears that it would be insulting or obscene, and how he

would calm me down, every time, unshockable by anything my still

adolescent self considered a terrible violation of decorum. The last time

he saw me, and this was recently, not decades ago, he said,

“You done good kid,” and someone might point out that I said

“the last time he saw me” and not “the last time I saw him” as though

I’m telling you a story about him and not a story about me, as though

I live my life as though I were not the person at the center of it.

The past used to come up only when it made sense, like the time

I apologized to a doctor for my very small veins, just before a hernia exam,

and the doctor smiled at me with the kindly puzzlement I love him for,

and said, “I’m not feeling for your veins,” at which point

I did remember the doctor who told me I had very small veins during

a hernia exam, when I was fourteen, and how he apologized for spending

so much time with his fingers in my scrotum, and how I slowly became

erect, embarrassed at my lack of self control, and hoping that

the mandatory second adult in the room wouldn’t tell the other

Boy Scouts that I’d gotten hard during the exam, but now it seems

more likely that he wasn’t going to let go of my balls until he saw me

hard, and I wonder why he lied, and if all the boy scouts of Troop

Four Forty Seven share the same secret, or if he was just especially curious

about my penis, and who that second adult would have told

had he thought that this doctor, father of one of the other boys,

was giving hernia exams that seemed to result in a surprisingly high rate

of erections, unless it was just me, and I wonder why that doctor

lied about veins like that, a stupid lie, one easily caught, even though

I didn’t catch it until decades later, in the form of me apologizing

for something that was never even really wrong with my body.

My mother warned me that when I had children, all of my traumas

would come back to me one by one, as I watched my children

live through the ages of whatever had hurt me, but I never had children,

so maybe that’s why these memories are coming back now, in a giant jumble

of unrelated scenes and glimpses, like the white clouds on a blue wall,

or the way I would go through the hotel with the maids and leave

orange sodas in the fridge, and chocolates on the pillows, back when

orange sodas and pillow chocolates were the most indulgent treats

I could imagine the world had to offer. Stan would tell me stories

about his life, and I loved them, in a way I was too embarrassed

to tell him. I loved the stories about his refusing to sign a loyalty oath

and losing his art scholarship, and the stories about the not quite

step son giving his girlfriend so much trouble. I thought

that I would never have such important stories, and the truth is

that I don’t. I’ve never made sense of my life. I’ve never had a clear

story, where I’m the hero at the center. What comes back to me

is disconnected and irrelevant, anecdotal and sensory, a wall,

a matchbook, a foot massage, a hernia exam, the feeling of the ceiling

against my back when I was being punished. I miss you, Stan,

the way you were never shocked, the way you never aged,

except to let your beard grow steadily whiter, how you seemed

to know exactly who you were and what you thought was right,

and how even if it wasn’t true, you looked so solidly at the center

of your own life, a kind of sun, holding everything around you

in place with your gravity, and how I was sure that would never

quite happen to me, how I feared I’d never fully make sense,

even to myself, but how it reassured me, that as long as someone

knew how to live, it would be ok if I never quite figured it out.  


This poem is included in Self Portrait of Icarus as a Country on Fire, forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2024. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.