Prayer of the Backhanded
Not the palm, not the pear tree
Switch, not the broomstick,
Nor the closest extension
Cord, not his braided belt, but God,
Bless the back of my daddy’s hand
Which, holding nothing tightly
Against me and not wrapped
In leather, eliminated the air
Between itself and my cheek.
Make full this dimpled cheek
Unworthy of its unfisted print
And forgive my forgetting
The love of a hand
Hungry for reflex, a hand that took
No thought of its target
Like hail from a blind sky,
Involuntary, fast, but brutal
In its bruising. Father, I bear the bridge
Of what might have been
A broken nose. I lift to you
What was a busted lip. Bless
The boy who believes
His best beatings lack
Intention, the mark of the beast.
Bring back to life the son
Who glories in the sin
Of immediacy, calling it love.
God, save the man whose arm
Like an angel’s invisible wing
May fly backward in fury
Whether or not his son stands near.
Help me hold in place my blazing jaw
As I think to say excuse me.
You are not as tired of the poem
As I am of the memory.
A returning toothache
On either side of the mouth.
An ingrown hair beneath the chin.
Simple itch. Bruising scratch
And again I am bundled
In cousin Kenny’s clothes
From last school year
My hand held by my mother’s.
We walk as if the house behind us
Isn’t warm enough
For my feet. In the dark
We make a few blocks
Around the one-story neighborhood
That I loved
Though nothing I’ve written
Tells you this.
I want to cut it out of me.
Because. Turns out it never mattered.
Right now my mother’s asleep
On my father’s chest. His arm has landed
In the same place around her
Most of thirty years.
Give a man a minute.
She’s asleep and I’m typing it
All over again. Everywhere
A man is shifting a bit
To make his woman comfortable
In his arms.
I should have told you this
Lines ago. We walked back
To the house we ran from.
My mother loves her husband
And his hands
Even if laid heavy against her.
I know you
Don’t want to believe that
But give a man a minute.
We’re not done.
My father loves his wife
And the shape of her body
Even if hunched in retreat,
Their son keeping up. I’m so sick of it—
Another awful father
Scarring this page too—
A bruising scratch.
We walked back
Through an open door.
And why don’t I mention
He kissed my forehead
Before covering me
On the couch that was my bed?
Listen And you can hear them
In the next room
Planning names for the youngest of us
Then making love loud enough
For the oldest to learn.
I wish you tamed. I wish what you fear—
A night alone in the forest.
A father who leaves you there. I wish you
Were ten years old again. And in love
With Marvin Gaye. I wish you saw his daddy
Shoot him. I wish you asthma. An attack
In the field. A lump in your chest. A doctor
Who won’t touch it. I wish you’d live forever
Afraid of dying. See the circus and be content.
Animals crawling like infants for the men
Who made them. I wish you would
Sniff a man. I wish his whip
Sharper than fangs. I wish you could know
How bite-less I feel, the mouth
I don’t close, his head in my throat.
-all three poems from Please
This is what your dying looks like.
You believe in the sun. You believe
I don’t love you. Always be closing,
Said our favorite professor before
He let the gun go off in his mouth.
I turned 29 the way any man turns
In his sleep, unaware of the earth
Moving beneath him, its plates in
Their places, a dated disagreement.
Let’s fight about it, baby. You have
Only so long left. A man turns
In his sleep, so I take a picture.
He won’t look at it, of course. It’s
His bad side, his Mr. Hyde, the hole
In a husband’s head, the O
Of his wife’s mouth. Every night,
I take a pill. Miss one, and I’m gone.
Miss two, and we’re through. Hotels
Bore me, unless I get a mountain view,
A room in which my cell won’t work,
And there’s nothing to do but see
The sun go down into the ground
That cradles us as any coffin can.
-previously published at The Rumpus.net