506: At the Arcade I Paint Your Footprints

506: At the Arcade I Paint Your Footprints

506: At the Arcade I Paint Your Footprints


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

For a few years, my father was my elementary school principal. If you can imagine, it made for some interesting experiences as a child. The fall always reminds me of him because he seemed to thrive on fresh starts, new school supplies, sharpened pencils, and a clean slate. At the end of summer he’d say, “I feel a…” And my older brother and I would scream “Don’t say it!” And he’d say, “I feel a hint of fall in the air.” I hated it because I was, and maybe I still am, a summer girl. 

Summer was when my brother and I would disappear for hours into the low hillsides behind our house with our big yellow dog Dusty. Summer was when we could just be. My brother would play roughly with his friends in some empty field and I’d stare at some small thing living in the creek bed. We’d stay up late and watch movies, we’d camp out in a tent in the backyard at my father’s house and sleep outside on the rooftop of my mother and stepfather’s apartment in town. Summer seemed a time for children. The long leash. And because of that, it seemed a time where I could watch and learn from my brother more completely. There were no grades in summer. Summer was all the same big school. 

I loved the idea of an endless summer. A summer when time stops and it’s all days at the pool and ice cream sandwiches, sunburns and long afternoons where no one wondered where you were. I think I wanted it to stay like that because every new year at school, in life, something changed. My brother got older and I got older too. He’d shove me out of his room more or I’d shove him out of mine. We’d have a strict bedtime and always had to finish our homework before any type of play.

We became serious. Life became more serious. And it wasn’t that I minded the work or the leaves changing or the cooler temperatures, but what I wanted to do was freeze time, so that it didn’t go on advancing. Even as a child, I remember thinking that it seemed unacceptable that we just kept going on and on until we didn’t. 

In today’s poem by Steven Espada Dawson, we’re shown what it is to be nostalgic for that time. Not just the summer, but a more forgiving youth, before everything was shifted by loss and the falling leaves of adulthood. 

At the Arcade I Paint Your Footprints
by Steven Espada Dawson

That summer we’d hop fences
and call them gates. You’d shark

pool, then we’d hunt deer
with all the quarters you tricked.

You smiled when they leapt
out of view. Passed me

that orange rifle, told me to aim
then close my eyes for ten years.

My antlered brother, mom
won’t sell the house so you can

have a landmark. Nostalgia
rends in absence, and yet

I remember June—that last
game of foosball, how we broke off

the little men and shook them
in our hands like tambourines

hoping they’d wake, then run.

"At the Arcade I Paint Your Footprints" by Steven Espada Dawson. Used by permission of the poet.