Mom Meant Well, a Poem Called “Stray”

English: Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony van Dy...

Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony van Dyck. (Toronto) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just like Daedalus advising his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, your parents meant well when they told you not to talk to strangers. But I remember questioning this when I was quite young. Isn’t it colder the higher you go? Wouldn’t he have to leave the atmosphere in order to get close enough to the sun to melt the wax? Yes, I watched Star Trek. And even, as a child I was bothered by the science, or more precisely, the lack of science in the Icarus story. But undoubtedly, his dad and my mom meant well.

As Kyle Hill from Discover Magazine told us last time, flying as close to the sun as possible (presuming that means not flying so high we can’t breathe) is actually what we should do. Wax at low altitudes will melt under the sun’s heat much faster than it will in the frigid upper atmosphere. So while it’s good to be cautious, being irrationally so is dangerous in the real world–even if the danger is in never trying, out of fear, and therefore never learning how high you can fly.

Similarly, while caution has its place, and your parents once had the right to tell you what to do, you will miss out on so much by being timid. Not talking to strangers is among the rules, along with not flying too high, that you should learn how to break. You’re a grown up now, better able to assess risk and reward. Work it out for yourself and trust yourself. Take the leap. I have met some of the most beautiful souls on the planet by waving aside the cautions against talking to strangers. As a matter of fact, my best friends were all once far away strangers, and had I not dared to trust my own instinct in such matters, well this would be a lonely life.

So, yes, look both ways before you cross the street, but go swimming right after you eat. Be curious. And whenever you get the chance, talk to strangers. You’re life will be so much more beautiful by doing so. And if you should land in the sea, you can learn how to swim.

This poem first appeared in Contemporary American Voices last year in June alongside the poetry of Brian Fanelli and Jason Allen.

Stray

In the Bible it happened—Fishermen, Levites
They just went away and kept on going
.
—William Stafford, from “Saint Mathew and All”

He asks me with a grin,
What advantage do you
young guys have over me
?

He stands there with his neat blue
cap and casual shoulders.
I cannot think of one.

Certainly not smarts, I say.
Wisdom would be the word, but seems
too cliché, too patronizing.

Not charm, for sure. I follow him
toward the door, while a clerk
shouts to me, holding up my bag.

He smiles and waits
as I retrieve my groceries.
When I was a boy, he says,

my mother’d make a list,
and I sat reading comic books
while the grocer filled the sack
.

We pass a few moments in the parking lot,
lingering for what reason, wondering aloud
where we had parked. I could leave
more than what I’d bought.

Someone else would eventually find
the car. My inadvertent tempter smiles

again. Take care now, friend.
And I think, one could do worse
than follow to strangers.

© 2015 by David J. Bauman

First printed in Contemporary American Voices, June 2014

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7 thoughts on “Mom Meant Well, a Poem Called “Stray”

  1. Ahh to think we were once strangers – smiles/ Love the essay – Icarus and Daedalus have always fascinated me. My parents must have forgotten that dread warning of strangers – we were taught to welcome each encounter – its amazing the people you can meet. The poem is lovely and I enjoyed the reading so much -K

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great perspective, thanks for posting. Made me think about how many times I have said the words, “don’t talk to strangers.” 🙂 I appreciate your words and found myself agreeing with it being healthy to encourage talking and sharing with others. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, what a delightful response, Curtis. Thank you. Believe me, as a father, I understand the caution. I just think that we could have said it better, and found ways to encourage our kids to explore safely. Obviously, when they are small, not talking to strangers alone is a good caution. Or at least something like, “Son, if you’re lost in the store, find someone in uniform behind a counter and tell them you are lost so that they can call over the intercom for me.” Maybe we just made it too blanketed and simple?

      But especially as we grow up to explore how to learn safely from strangers. I’m really glad you found something here that you enjoyed. Thank you for speaking up!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Life on the Ground, Music Monday with Mary | The Dad Poet

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