As I Look in the Glass
Comedians are getting attacked on stage,
sailors are committing suicide on ships.
As I type this, one of my best friends
is undergoing a triple-bypass. Hard times
for many, good times for others. Look
on the reality side, I tell myself, as I think
to look in the mirror. Forest fires rage,
turn cabins to cinders, cows drown,
flowers in a vase wither on an altar.
In a corner with only mattress on the floor
a young woman tells a slightly older man
No, her arms crossed over her face.
I recall one late morning: a young woman
behind a counter, with dark good looks,
at an animal shelter tells me, “That haircut
makes you look younger.” A fresh flat-top.
I, a man doing all I can to stay above ground
to help animals, wonder, Should I keep
my hair a flat-top or grow it out?
As fires rage, as, in some city a homeless
man on a bench is kicked awake by
a drug-addled youth, as flowers wither
on an altar, as a woman holds up her arms
in defense, and, in a city far from where I
am typing this, bodies lie in a street.
On both sides stand houses: crumbled
roofs and walls, doors off hinges, broken
glass of windows blown out by a blast.
Being a Father
Daddy Practice is doing it with love:
getting up every two hours at night
and holding the name of your unborn son.
Daddy practice: the words she won’t understand
the first time you show Roberta, your daughter,
a river. If you hear a lake loon and say
“listen,” she’ll know by then the loon’s cry.
You blow over the top of a spoonful of broth you’ll spoon
into her small mouth. You’ll be the audience
as he, your son, says “Mama,” his two syllable
Gettysburg Address. You’ll leave
him, later, in a room where he pledges an oath,
takes a train to a camp and then boards a plane
that lands in a war zone. She’s thirteen
and no girl scout, somebody you thought
you knew. A cinder in her eye brings a tear,
but not yours. You’re a practicing daddy,
a stranger, someone she doesn’t understand.
It’s like nothing else you’ve ever done.
Still, you say it’s like practicing to fly
and land; first you must get the plane
up in the air and through the clouds.
The bouquet you give a friend recovering
from hip replacement you give over and over.
In tree shade, at an iron pump, for practice
you cup your hands and drink the water.
You name two sailboats on the lake, and name
trees behind you as you stand alone on shore.
This is Lake Michigan, then Lake Calhoun
and then Lake George and eventually
Last Lake, as there will be a last bouquet
and a last face you see before you shut down,
with your son Robert holding your hand
and Roberta talking in the doorway with Doctor Phelps.
It’s like batting practice or learning to pitch
low and inside, and yet it’s not. A child whines
and whines. Shut the hell up,
you feel like saying; then soft, tender things.
You don’t want Robert,
when he’s grown, to say “I never knew him,
though we lived together eighteen years
and he picked me up and carried me
on his shoulders and held me there, closer
to heaven, as he spoke to a man outside
a red cottage with a green roof. He loved
my mother, but rarely showed it.”
You don’t want Robert or Roberta saying that.
So you practice to get the thing right,
or wrong as few times as possible.
“It’s the one thing you can’t practice for.
Once a father always a father,”
your mother tells your aunt. These sisters
who were mothers speak
from the grave. Part of the immense
invisible. At night you look at stars
and can’t convince yourself they’re up there.
Their husbands were fathers who practiced
at the keyboard of vast mistakes made by
any father: the father of our country,
the father of American poetry,
the father of failure standing at a mirror
knotting his tie. Not yet a homeowner,
Robert’s going to a dance where he’ll dance with
a doll-size invisible shape. Or this:
he dances with your name,
carries it smartly across the floor.