Untitled from Art Concret (centerfold), Theo van Doesburg

He seemed made of wood, what a puppet really looked like

after becoming a real boy, but after the ass’s ears slough off,

when he can bear to look at himself in the mirror. This real

Pinocchio troubled me more than he was an item of ridicule.

Certainly, he had the spindly limbs, the spastic gait, and

these sudden, jerking gestures that still betrayed a life that

depended on strings for animation. His maker, this puppet

master still hovered in the air. I have come to believe that

was God. The way the puppet’s slack jaw dropped in

surprise, the peg nose, the eyes darting side to side or rolling

up into his head when he, meaning the boy, had a seizure . . . Every

one of these features assumed reality in and reached a kind

of maturity in the “slow,” slow being a polite expression then,

as though he might still catch up like the turtle who raced

the hare. He still dressed the way you would expect someone

unfamiliar with being a real boy to dress. Had his mother

found clothes for him in solid colors he might have blended

in like plastic dinosaurs, in the blues and grays of Civil War

soldiers. But he stood out and never missed a day wearing

a checkered Western shirt with checks as hard on the eyes as

a test pattern, blue bib longies with matching knee patches,

which no longer needed to be cuffed but they were always

cuffed enough to serve as pockets. The suspenders were yoked

high. The double stripes of his crew socks were also red as

candy canes, conferring a kind of rank, as far as he would get,

I guess. He buttoned his shirt high as well, such that his

Adam’s apple kept popping out when he craned his neck before

taking one of his high steps, as though the cracks in the

sidewalks were made of wire. His voice had cracked early. He

wore choppy sideburns, for he must have not wanted to be

touched on his face by his “poor mother” as mine called her.

They lived at the bottom of Elbrook, which is from the German

Hellbruch, meaning where light breaks through the

clouds. My mother also said that the older boy had a “difficult

birth” and that we should never laugh at how he exposed

himself to the little girls whenever they gathered around the

lawn sprinkler for that only “encourages him.” But we did

anyway, and he didn’t know any better as well as he rode

his bicycle, a red-and-cream Schwinn with battered fenders

and a hollow crossbar that resembled a jeweled comet drawn

by a monk in an illuminated manuscript. His bicycle was a

living fossil among the high handlebars and proud banana

seats with which we took aim at him playing “chicken,” trying

to show him how to ride by our example. We chased him

to the top of Elbrook, which was all downhill. We reared up

at him and popped rampant “wheelies.” But he refused to

learn beyond straddling his bicycle the way a toy cowboy fits

a toy horse. He only took these long steps, with his legs set

wide apart so that the bicycle pedals could spin freely around

unused and unimpeded. But every so often his immaculately

white freckled legs couldn’t avoid being struck and bruised

black and blue. Eventually he caught up. When he was finally

in our circle, he sat on his bicycle, in the eye of our

merry-go-round of string rays until we were out of breath

laughing, until enough of a gap formed through which he

could push off and coast downhill, homeward on a

draisienne, a dandyhorse—that’s the word, that ought to work

down ten spaces, that should solve the last hard words across.