by Jo-Anne Cappeluti
THAT COLD DAY in January, that line of 20 kindergarteners, their breath like clouds coming out of their mouths—my son near the front, half-turning every once in a while and waving at me, waving back—and speechless as I stood there at the gate, compelled to watch a scene so buoyant with that everyday and profound gift of life—the way those children kept looking at each other and then at their 20-something teacher, and then at the sky for the longest time, as if they would find an answer there.
And then a loud crash—a black pick-up on oversized tires at top speed into the chain link fence around the playground—then a man thrown out, a man with long, grey hair and beard, a tank top and jeans and tattoos on every inch of his arms, even his neck, shouting about f-ing this and that, over and over—as all of the rest of us stood there and watched, trying to see what this scene was about and what it had to do with f-ing this and that and how it assaulted the everyday and profound gift of life that put us there beneath that sky at eight o’clock on a Monday morning, the first day of returning after winter break.
I stood there for the longest time, feeling a sinking weight of something grossly oversized that had crashed into an immeasurably sacred, kindergarten place of life itself but at the same time something so incredibly small and hard, like a fist, full of itself but not of life—full of a narcissistic pride that blindly hates anything not itself. Then I looked at the faces of the children, still in line, staring at the man, walking in circles, as if trapped in his own circular existence—like some kind of Rumpelstiltskin caught off guard, not able to work his usual magic and get his way.
And now that is 40 years ago, and such an ugly event has been multiplied into several events on every day—as an endless, class-less inhuman population has grown, interested only in crashing through, breaking into the sacred space of holidays, birthdays, even TGIF’s, bringing ugliness in to winter breaks, branding its anger night after night into anyone watching the evening news, leaving me trying to say something about anything numinous that remains, such as the innocence of kindergarteners there in the cold facing something ugly, something inhuman gone horribly wrong.
And what saves me from unmitigated grief sometimes is the memory of my five-year-old son, half-turned to me, waving, almost as if telling me, much less himself, to hold on to the fact that we were both there on the first day back from winter break—moved by the beauty of the sky before—and after—that event that left us all staring with nothing to say, our breath like clouds as we were drawn to the silence of the sky, speaking of peace and asking us what we feel and think.
Jo-Anne Cappeluti earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Riverside and taught creative writing for thirty years at California State University, Fullerton. She continues in retirement now to ponder the imagination-driven creative process that invites—and goads—the intellect to examine truths that by nature can neither be proven nor disproven. Her poetry appears most recently in Goldman Review, Whistling Shade, and Blue Unicorn.