Bonjour, Texas: Summer 1966

By the second week I learned that Texans sweat as much
as the French, and swear even more, that you couldn’t fight one
twin without taking on the other. But the librarian would slip me
the choicest donated fiction, and I played baseball every day in the
vacant lot until sundown called the players home to black and white
body counts and cigarette commercials on the three channels we got.

Sometimes I lay in bed under the half-light of the whirring fan
blades, and dreamt of heroes and ornithopters, zebras and the scent
of chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Other nights I wondered
how words could rest so calmly on one page yet explode off the next,
or why a man would climb a tower in Austin to kill fourteen people.
Wasn’t living a matter of simple subtraction?

One by one the days parted and I walked through the dwindling
heat, eyes squinting, questions in hand, emerging fifty years later
having suffered the mathematics of love and success, honor and
truth, still asking why and how, where it’d gone, shoulders slumped
under the heft of those beautiful, terrible summers stacked high
like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.

Robert Okaji, O at the Edges



49 thoughts on “Bonjour, Texas: Summer 1966

    • Thank you, Robyn. It was an interesting time. I have a feeling that the cultural shift of moving from France to Texas would affect me much more today. At that time, and at seven-years old, change occurred daily.

      • I think it depends upon circumstances. In childhood, change was the norm. I grew up wondering what living in one place for more than a few years would be like. But now I’ve lived in the same house for over 30 years, and a drastic shift in locale and culture would be more difficult. It would likely be enjoyable, too. But difficult.

  1. My favorite bit: “Other nights I wondered how words could rest so calmly on one page yet explode off the next.” I hope you no longer try to take on twins but still dream of heroes, chocolate chip cookies and zebras. Won’t begin to pretend I know anything about ornithopters:). Beautifully put–all of it.

    • I never really wanted to take on the twins, but had no choice. We became friends, but for a while it was touch and go. And yes, chocolate chip cookies still rank high in my life. Thank you for your kind comments.

  2. I wanna go visit Texas so badly! Been to Arizona in the springtime, which was nice… but the tapestry of culture that is the modern-day southwest… 👌

  3. Amazing piece. I love the way you captured childhood impressions of a young boy and hinted at future unravelings of your questions. I was born in Houston and lived there until I was 10. I didn’t know how sweltering the summers were until I visited Texas years later

  4. Robert, I’ve been following your poetry since I began blogging a few years ago and you are one of the best on WordPress. Your poem carried me along changed my mindset and reminded me of my ability to use my memorable moments to experience yours, if that makes sense. That’s what gifted writers do, in my experience, and an audience is all the better for it.

    I just moved away from Texas after nearly 10 years. The humidity can kill a weak soul if it wants to, can’t it?! Ha. My best, Audrey

  5. I thought it was interesting how you combined feelings with mathematics and play with order to describe your Texas summer. Our experiences speak to both sides of our brains to make a lasting impression!

  6. Beautiful and lyrical writing but I got stuck on the last phrase:

    “like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.”

    I understand the weight of unread books but where does the “awaiting a bonfire” come in? What does it mean or relate to?

    • I’m a proponent of letting readers find their own meanings, but one might read the line as an acknowledgment of waste, or perhaps the fire is a benediction of sorts, or a cleansing, or simply a realization that everything ends, or…

  7. “choicest donated fiction” Which is why you emerged 50 yrs later writing choice poetry whose words rest calmly on one page and explode off the next. Great imagery in that last paragraph.

    • Thank you, Diana. Mrs. Shepherd was a blessing. Much of what I read back then came from her. She recognized my love for words and encouraged it. I have been so fortunate.

  8. Pingback: Bonjour, Texas: Summer 1966 – Truth Troubles: Why people hate the truths' of the real world

  9. Pingback: Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby, Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide, Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps. | O at the Edges

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