University of Texas at El Paso

            Jan LaPerle


My Father’s Campers


My father’s campers are parked in a row along the barn.

Four of them and he lives in them all.  Yes, all.  One for the toilet,

shower – a little slide of the soap in, let’s say, the hygiene camper.

The camper pulled up into the barn shadows is for sleeping.

A third for cooking – a little luncheon on wheels, though the wheels

never turn.  The longest, newest, shiniest camper with the magnificent

awning that yawns out over a set of crooked lawn chairs is, what we shall

call, the socializing camper.  In the humidity, the scrabble board wilts,

just a little. 


                        A little disjointed house.  Imagine, now, the makings of a good

earthquake.  Or rooms that could not get along.  Children pulled apart

and sent to their rooms.  The divorce of bedrooms.  Children grow,

move across town, build more children, add bedrooms, bedrooms onto

bedrooms and bedrooms we never build into.


I’d like to keep this image from you: 

father moving between rooms in the sunshine – a glint of light on his bald,

bald head.  At night, stars reflected in his glasses.  And other things

I’d turn you from or show you then say, Let’s go.  Go, go, go

as we all must do.  Leaving a part of us as we go

like when father drives his bathroom down the yard,

toward town, toward another state and country and we don’t think

of the happiness of the bathroom, but of the longing of the three campers

left against the barn.


                                    Lately, as I empathize with campers,

I consider how love is like a cartoon.  A funny, on-the-page

sort of thing that isn’t quite real, yet something I follow,

aimlessly, like a road and as I move toward one town,

I move away from another.  From one room to another,

I wonder if the hygiene camper (at the mercy of its driver)

contemplates whether it can do without the other rooms

as I must do without you. 


I tell you, I’d forever sleep in a tub for you.  I’d do a lot of things.

Sometimes you have to do without as you do with what you have

and what you have to do.  Like when my brother, shopping

with a hungry baby had to pull a jug of milk right off the shelf

and the baby, not knowing how to drink, but hungry, so, so hungry still

had to sit in his little spill.  Of course he cried like we all cry

when no one knows why and maybe we do or don’t know why or what for,

but that we are all hungry.  The sleep camper cries for the hygiene camper.

I cry for the man because looking at him is like looking

at the sun and my brother’s wife cries because the babies won’t stop

crying or because the babies grow up right there behind the groceries

and I grow and wonder where my babies are.  And the barn,

that big, big barn beyond the campers cries for us all.


            And why not consider crying babies?  The daycare across

the street sends theirs off in a long stroller – a baby train.

Or they walk the babies chained together – a baby chain gang –

and they learn early the drudgery of following another

so closely you don’t even know if you are you or just an extension

of someone else.  An engine in a machine that could not run without you.

What good are you without that body?  And I say,

why don’t you rev up in mine.


Oh, I know very well that some of us are just meant to park.

The cooking camper, for instance, with its motor turned down,

its underneaths set up on blocks, knows how a little domesticity

will keep it alive – a stir of soup, a link of sausage

rolls in its pan – how quiet images of happiness are sometimes enough. 

But when hygiene camper returns, rolls in, sputters off,

full of road stories and sweat, the others grow scared.

Scared of their own stagnancies.  Scared of everything, then,

scared, even, of the barn and the barn grows scared of the sun,

the sun the stars, the stars the campers, the campers the wilting

scrabble board, and the wilting scrabble board grows scared

of its players who press down with their eager little fingers

their little letters then sing out their little words and their little

points (oh, their points!) like they really are getting the point

or that they really have words for any of this. 


Jan LaPerle is originally from a small town in northern New Hampshire, but currently lives in the mountains of East Tennessee.  She completed her M.F.A. at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and has poems published or forthcoming in Dislocate, Boxcar Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry Review, Subtropics, Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere.