Home Free


You storm out late at night
And walk the streets alone
In adolescent pique —
A tried and true technique
To give your folks a fright,
Imagining you half-grown,
A girl not quite fourteen,
Caught in a passing light
On some deserted lane
Or leafy cul-de-sac,
Where danger lurks unseen,
Crouched like a maniac.

At first, I spurn the bait
And watch the clock and phone
With feigned indifference,
Refusing to succumb
To scenes imagination
Plays on its lurid screen,
Till out of patience and
Heart climbing in my throat,
I grab my keys, cell phone,
And hit the empty street
To track your shadow down
Among the leafy shades
And mildly spreading lawns
Of our small southern town.

At twice the posted speed,
I double back and scan
Each dark unpeopled scene
Still as a Christmas garden,
Where houses sleep, serene,
At quarter past eleven….
Until, not far ahead,
In pools where shadows spread
Beyond the streetlamps’ glow,
I spy a silhouette
And awkward loping gait
That makes my engine slow.

I pull along beside
And start the old debate,
While you walk on, eyes straight,
In unreasoning pride
Refusing to get in,
However much I chide,
Or threaten and cajole.
Then with a quick U-Turn,
You duck away and hide
Across a neighbor’s lawn
Beyond my headlights’ sweep —
Until the truth strikes home —
That you’re not mine to keep —
And rounding one last block,
I leave you to the dark
Paths you must tread alone
And slowly circle back
To end our hide-and-seek,
Till love calls us back home
By separate paths, to sleep.


Paul Lake is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Arkansas Tech and poetry editor of First Things. He has published two books of poetry, Another Kind of Travel and Walking Backward, as well as a novel, Among the Immortals.

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)