Issue 41 |
Winter 1986

Poem for Men Only

It wasn't easy, inventing the wheel,
dragging the first stones into place,
convincing them to be the first house.
Maybe that's why our fathers,
when they finished work

had so little to say. Instead,
they drifted — feet crossed on the divan,
hands folded over stomachs like a prayer
to middle age. They watched the game,
or snored and dreamed of flying naked

through a storm of bills. When,
like a weighty oak, my father fell,
knocked down by a streak
of lightning through his chest,
when he went on living at the height

of an adjustable bed,
below a chart of pulse and respiration lines,
then I understood
what it meant to be a man,
and land on your back in the shadow

of all your solitary strength, the masculine
tickertape of leaves whispering
judgmentally above you. Weakness
is so frightening. You speak
from the side of a sagging mouth,
hear a voice you never wanted to produce
ask for some small, despicable, important
thing — a flexible straw, a crummy
channel change. I stared through the window
across the institutional lawn

trying not to hide. Sparrows
darted to and from a single
emerald pine, a sort of bird motel.
Light purred into the grass. I tried
to see all men as brief

as birds, inhaling the powerful oxygen,
flying the lazy light, having their afternoon
as sort of millionaires —
then, at evening, forced to reenter the collective shade
and shrink, remembering their size. When I looked

for my father, when my father finally
looked for me, it was impossible. We kept
our dignity. But when did I learn
to leave everyone behind? When did I get
as strong as my old man?

Out of your strength,
you make a distance
where you can stand and look across.
Consider crossing. Think about it.
Take, if you like, all day.

for Robert Boswell