Gary Soto writes that when he was five "what I knew best was at ground level." In this lively collection of short essays, Soto takes his reader to a ground-level perspective, resreating in vivid detail the sights, sounds, smells, and textures he knew growing up in his Fresno, California, neighborhood. The "things" of his boyhood tie it all together: his Buddha "splotched with gold," the taps of his shoes and the "engines of sparks that lived beneath my soles," his worn tennies smelling of "summer grass, asphalt, the moist sock breathing the defeat of basesall." The child's world is made up of small thingssmall, very important things.
Poet Soto ( The Tale of Sunlight ) here offers 39 brief essays about his years from age five to 17 in and around Fresno, Calif. In supple, evocative language he remembers quietly euphoric summer days spent in the shade of fruit trees, when the taps he fastened to his shoes--``kicking up the engine of sparks that lived beneath my soles''--were enough to keep him amused, and when an imaginary brake prevented the boy from speeding out of control. A favorite theme is childish fantasy, whether the rumor of a giant who ``lived nearby'' or a breeze that ``moved a hat-sized tumbleweed,'' and, without saying a word on the subject, Soto suggests the rich implications of imagination for the future writer. It is mostly his fondness for place that buoys memory up, with the sights, tastes and feelings of home and earth revealed in carefully chosen yet seemingly casual details: ``I ate like a squirrel with a burst of jaw motion''; ``Grandmother sipped coffee and tore jelly-red sweetness from a footprint-sized Danish.'' Soto the realist does not neglect his boyhood mischief, and his sly sense of humor is exercised throughout. (July)