La Tierra de los Niños Pequeños

(con notas)

An Online Poem by Mary McCray
With readable notes!
(rollover them, don't click)

(November 2021)




This was the tweet: describe your ex in one word;
describe your ex in three words;
describe your ex with emojjis;
describe your ex as a car;
say something nice about your ex;
describe your ex as a little boy,

los niños pequeños, les petits garçons,
would they have loved me then?
Because I don’t really know why they love me now.


When he was with me he delivered pizzas
and for this reason I imagine him
delivering pizzas as a little boy:
very expertly, with panache and wherewithal,
opinions about cheeses that are all his own,
a little boy in catholic school, already eyeing the beer
and girls. He drives them to school on his bicycle.
He falls from balconies and dusts himself off.
I am the little girl in the other yard he pays no mind yet.
I will rifle through his comic books, ones pristinely wrapped
with his imagination. I will frustrate his order.
It is not my time yet.
Someday he will fall from me and dust himself off.


He played jazz piano in opulent L.A. hotels, pretty as an airman
of the brat pack. I see him now in his idyllic green state
of Connecticut, small long fingers on the keys of the piano
practicing in the parlor of a pilot’s son. But his father is long gone,
long-before-him gone, still up in the air with all the notes.
I am the little girl down at the pedals, hand on the damper
to keep the vibrations in the airwaves. I will pull all his records
out of their jackets and leave the needle trudging on his stereo.
He can’t hear me yet.
Someday he will send the sound of me
up in the air with all the notes.


He showed me scars from his Catholic Belfast, told me how
to fight dirty in a crusade, but what I remember is the picture
of his black-Irish boyhood, the scruffy oversized sweater
on the shop window street. He was the soot-faced smallest.
And when there was a bad smell next door, his father sent him in
to climb through the window and see if the old woman was alright.
She wasn’t. He lied from hunger; he lied to escape the messes he made.
I am the little girl scrambling his marbles at the corner,
ducking just when the fighting begins and then marveling
over the scrapes. Someday he won’t be able to quench his need
to lie to me long after he doesn’t need to give me truth anymore,
like a wild-eyed little boy backing out of the room of dead woman.


He was once a news reporter who loved animals but had none.
He kept an elegant ship and lived like an adult, as evidenced by a vodka wet bar.
His marvelous story was from an L.A. boyhood and a father who wrote
music reviews for the local newspaper. And thus this one was afforded
the opportunity to attend the premiere of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
seated directly behind Willie Wonka himself. And when the movie was over
Gene Wilder turned to him and asked him what he thought of it.
I want to imagine him hating it with all the tacky jawbreakers and bubble gum.
When I ask him this he rolls his eyes. Of course he loved it.
I am a little girl in the projection booth leaving fingerprints on the film stock.
I wrinkle his red carpets.
For now, he is preoccupied without the likes of me.
But someday he will offer me fizzy lifting drinks.
He will make no messes with the Gene Wilder in me.


He was a scrappy towheaded kid who did everything
for a small amount of time. He learned to type at four.
His mother showed me the memorandum protesting his father
who would soon disappear, like so many other men he would know
who fell out of their lives. His brothers dressed him up like history,
fashioned a tiny pinball wizard who won them pitchers of beer.
They were just amazed he knew what rigor mortis meant
at age five. He was hungry too and I grew large on his hunger.
I am the little girl pulling games from his closets,
rolling dice on the board and unable to catch up to his charms.
I tell him he would not have picked me then
when the older girls were chasing him down for a kiss.
Today he swears my ideas of him were never true.


In last night’s dream, I was the ghost of a young girl in a small house.
There was a staircase by the door, wood walls and I would appear
after twilight or in the early darkness when little boys are still awake.
I was drawn to one little boy in the house and I would see him randomly
and often with others, usually on his way to some nighttime escapades.

He was always very happy to see me and my heart felt like
it was fully beating in those moments, but I was just a ghost
and transitory and left behind. It was another country.
It was not my country. He was maybe ten years old,
which would explain why I was ghost
because I wouldn’t have been born yet.

And when alone, I looked out the window and saw the houses
spread apart outside on the countryside. It must have been close
to Christmas because I found it interesting there were lights
along rooftops in the 1950s. And then suddenly

I decided to cut my long brown hair.
I went to a cheap place in the nearby town
where a grim tall man offered to cut it
but I was afraid and left.
The little boy’s mother was waiting for me outside.
She said she would take me to a nice place.
I said “let’s just go where you go; your hair looks nice.”
She looked young and I remember her hair.

She took me to a room where she spent a long time
putting up my hair while we sat on a twin bed.
There was a window at the edge of the bed
and it was a bright, sunny day outside.
Another girl with curly hair was there on the bed behind us.
She told me how nice my hair would look.
Her hair was tied back with long streams of gold
and small, velvet, blue Christmas balls.
I thought my hair could never look as pretty.

I told her I wished we had those kind of Christmas balls for our hair
in my country. She said she wished her country had schools like ours.
It was then I realized I was American and my country was across an ocean.

The little boy’s mother gave me lots of advice
while she put up my hair. She ran her hand gently up my spine
so I would remember to sit up straight.
She gave me a handwritten letter which I didn’t have a chance to read
before I was born. But I understood she was trying to help me
not be so much of a ghost. And I was so grateful, I wanted to cry.

In the after-dream that was still the dream
I wondered if life was like a river, or maybe it was the mind
that was like a river—flowing in directions you can barely steer toward
and full of deep undertows of subconsciousness.

This morning I think the whole dream was just a metaphor.
But I’m not really sure about that.
Sometimes I think I might have made it all the way back
to the mischievous and smitten land of little boys.