Hiding Place, a Place of Riddles
by Martin Willitts Jr.

When I was a child I did small secrets.
The hedge in back of my house was a forest
and they whispered endlessly:
do not answer when they call for you;
it is all a trick to expose you
to failure and capture. When I was small
as a key to the language of sparrows,
I was on the evening of beginnings.

I knew nostalgia before I learned its cruelty
is children whose faces scrunch-up in hatred.
There is no word homesickness
when the neighborhood terrorizes you.
The only hiding place
is the one where you become invisible
when you close your eyes
like a door with no cracks for air to get in.
Happy is the boy whose fear is leavened into bread.

I know the tiny flames of silence.
I was taught well, keep low,
close to the heartbeat of ground.
A voice with wisdom is seldom heard.

Any escape, no matter how brief,
is a vacation from fear.


The cathedral of shrubs in my backyard
promised Sanctuary. The king of the lost world
is the one who sees no reason to return.

One night I slept in my hiding place
when no one noticed I was missing.
My body did not know that was how relaxed felt.
For a night I forgot I had a brother
who threatened to whack me with a hammer
to see if I would crack open like a piggy bank.
He had already practiced on several frogs.
I debated the wisdom of returning.
The alluring smell of pancakes was a trap.


The ladder of escape headed towards capture.
My breathing was an unseen bird
everyone wants to harm.
I knew the imaginings of morning by name.

Meanwhile I was demanding God for an answer:
are you inside me? Are you an answer?


Inside the question of hallowedness,
is a kind of nuclear meltdown sinking into ground
and you had to pour relentless amounts of water
to cool off heating rods.
The person who can flood his heart with cement
is the one who survives.

In the castle of lilac bushes,
you had to cross a drawbridge. You were challenged
by riddles in order to find acceptance:
if once we spoke a common language
then one day no one understood each other,
how did anyone warn anyone that it happened?


Some people plan their vacations in advance,
study maps, plan rest spots. No one suspected
I could travel to other places without moving.
All I need was the enclosure of leaves,
the map of stars above my head, the miles
from bullies. Otherwise, when my brother neared
all the lilacs would melt into hollow promises.

IMAGE: “Lilac Bush” by Vincent van Gogh (1889).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I often divert from the expected. It occurred to me that the term “vacation” could be any time away from the normal. Children who are bullied need to get away from their bullies. If I went on a vacation with my brother, the bully, how could it be a vacation? He would still be there, no matter if we went across the county. However, I found a place to hide from him. The few minutes away from him was a vacation, a true vacation.¶ It is hard to imagine that my brother was five years younger than me. How could he be a bully? When you are brought up “to turn the other cheek” and “not fight back,” you become the victim. When he was growing up, all of a sudden my parents saw this other son who was more like a rough-and-tumble boy, and he was allowed to be rough. As we grew older, he was no longer the bully and I was no longer the victim. The lilac bushes are long gone. ¶ What we do as children lead us towards what we become as adults: sometimes we can outgrow bad habits, sometimes our upbringing makes us stronger, and sometimes a bully never changes when they become an adult. We never know which way a child will learn. Why do some of us go one way and some of us go the other way? This is a mystery.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Willitts Jr was nominated for 11 Pushcart and 11 Best of the Net awards. He is the winner of the 2012 Big River Poetry Review’s William K. Hathaway Award; co-winner of the 2013 Bill Holm Witness Poetry Contest; winner of the 2013 “Trees” Poetry Contest; winner of the 2014 Broadsided award; winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2015, Editor’s Choice. He has 8 full-length collections of poetry including National Ecological Contest Winner, “Searching For What Is Not There” (Hireath Press, 2013), and over 20 chapbooks including “Late All Night Sessions with Charlie “the Bird” Parker and the Members of Birdland, in Take-Three” (A Kind Of a Hurricane Press, 2015). His forthcoming books include “How to Be Silent” (FutureCycle Press), “God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name” (Aldrich Press), and “Dylan Thomas and the Writer’s Shed” (FutureCycle Press).