As you take your first tentative steps
towards what you think is freedom
suitcase in hand
you pause and think of an unusual old man
from the past
who sang in the corner
of your childhood home
when holidays came around
and then he’d vanish
like a wisp
left unspoken
as if he’d not existed
except as party favor your parents brought out
when their ability to converse with each other had died
he left leaving only post cards and fridge magnets
laughter and the fog of mystery behind
as proof of his existence
“look at what he was wearing” your mother had said
and indeed he appeared not to belong
in this world or the next

you always called him uncle, but knew
from your fathers sly smile and your mothers close patience
he was some kind of pretender
you barely remember what he said anymore
from when he held court in the sun rays
escaping indoors to seek warmth from the winter
outside
and stirred the floating dust with his hands
as the company sat at his feet
his thralls

he called himself a traveler
that meant precious little to you
you remember hearing your mother’s shrill voice say to your father time and again, ‘don’t you dare’
as if she had been pierced with fear
discomfort would reign between the two rooms
your father laughed against mothers remonstrations
hard words cut off by a swinging door
as they left off and began
an ongoing argument
between trips laden with gravy boats
and giant trays of meat and berries

in your mind you think he’s a rambling fool
a wrangler of conflicted stories
the laws of time and space interfere with his logic
he’d have to have lived for a million years
he defies the obvious
you hold your tongue against polite confusion
do others also hear it?
what did he say about
living under water?
or was that a material metaphor
about how buckets of rain could fall from the sky
but i became immersed in the ticking vibrations
coming from the image of an oriental god
he wore as a pendant around his neck
i got the distinct impression
that his time on our plane
was quickly coming to an end

you forget the specifics because you couldn’t listen
your mind is wrapped up in a blanket of rainbows
it doesn’t make sense that he’s speaking in tongues
about people and places that lay dead in your home
encased in paper spines and brushed ink
instead you got lost in a rhythm of words
that fall from his mouth like butterflies
on the vine
the dreams you had later that night
were as strange and wonderful as your young mind
could comprehend
and you woke knowing something inside you
had changed
but you didn’t know what
a luftmensch was
how can one live in the air?

in your malleable state
the old man speaks only beautiful nonsense
you thought him insane
the mind worm beat towards your subconscious like a drum
pictures forming into words that can’t be translated
but only remembered as emotions decades later
and here you are thinking that
it would be the easiest thing to find yourself alone
he’d said
a voice in your head has begun to repeat
his long lost song
and that look on his face
as if he were transcendent

wander away and you’ll never come home
the same
he’d said
look at me, i’m a breath of homeless air
wander the world and try to come back
after years of living on the road
after making your bed in the clouds beside the highway
you’ll be different when you return
you’ll be immutably different
if you return
his eyes held something secret that you couldn’t quite see
like silver dogs building around the blazing sun

i saw something out of my peripheral vision
a ghostly glimpse from the corner of my eye
his words were my spirit guide and i was wandering through ruins
the old haunts you cherish are empty except for the ghosts in your mind
the ones you’d held close have moved on
at one point I paused when he pointed at me
as if he could read my mind and he said
you can be away for too long to remember what you’ve left behind
his dangling refrain
lodged somewhere
faded but never to be forgotten
an image of myself resembling what i can only describe
as an alien gypsy unlike any i’d seen
“is that me”?

just as you blew across the face of the world
they will have
and he pointed at your parents
settled into the ground
planting deep roots
spouses, girlfriends and lovers will interpret your presence
as a threat
a dark shadow from the past
come to steal away the security of the nest
by planting dreams that grow like weeds
in the garden so carefully groomed
they will challenge your freedom with hatred
and covet those things that don’t exist
which you hold dear

you realize that in your reverie
you have not heard your parents behind you
you stand in the doorway
half in and half out
somehow you’d wished you could have vanished
like that old man
who’d seemed to make something out of nothing
creating substance out of what hadn’t existed
while floating between worlds
you turn to see two kinds of hope
one for a freedom never realized
one for loss that will tear at the fabric of an impossible dream

your father pines for what might have been
you’ve always known that
he’s told you as much
whenever he drank himself through another lonely night
when he spoke about the things he had lost
your mother see’s nothing but the dark shadow
of the story teller
she wishes she could reach back into the past
to make it stop
she wrings her hands
she’d known all along
that you’d be leaving
you had the stain of the traveler on your soul

“you’ll regret it if you do’
you’re mother cries
“you’ll regret it if you don’t”
you’re father stands his ground for once
a vision of the traveler appears
you can see the butterflies
falling out of his mouth
and the sweet smell of nothing on your hands
as you prepare to leave everything behind
except memories
to answer the longing
in your heart
and as a supernatural force lifts you into the air
as it has when you’ve astral traveled
you finally understand
the luftmensch
and his place among the stars

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