My father will not like this poem.
My father listens to me read
And incredulous asks, “Can’t you write something happy?
Something light and carefree?
This is all too dark for me.”
Good thing it’s not for you, then, Father
But let me answer your query
In the form of yet one more dreary
I look out in the world, Father
And see not carefree light
Or simplistic happy.
My eyes were shaped far too cynical
And are you not proud?
Of the beast in me you’ve wrought?
Every time you raised your hand to me
Knuckles turned down, hand angled like a knife
To me—an insolent and impatient child—
The flinch echoed down the length of my spine.
It reverberated through my ribs
Changed the vibration of my breath
And the pulse of my heart.
It snaked its way back up like some shadowy and wicked kundalini
To set its long hooked fingers
Into the white matter of my brain
And change the colors in which I saw this world.
But at least you never followed the motion through—
Unlike your own then godless father figure
Who so loved to remind you and your brother
That you were small and he was large—
Except for that once
When outside the screen on the back door
Of that old manufactured home
Between the bright pink roses
And the waxy rhododendron leaves
Your hand came cascading down—
Open rough and calloused palm
To young impressionable cheek.
But I was too much your own child
For though the sting stuck long and hard
It did not stick respect or even fear.
In the end the red imprint of your fingers on my face
Stuck an anger—burning. Deep.
Or, recall you that time
When our old dog proudly pranced
All silver and gray with duck in mouth
All muddy with drool and blood and dangling by rubbery broken neck
And onto the porch you stormed
Hunting rifle in hand
While I with my tiny fists beat your knees
And screamed, “Please stop! Please don’t kill him, please!”
Far easier had it I
Than many a lost child
Forgotten in the cracks and shadows and yet
Did such things shape my eyes and the things they do see
Though to be frank
It wouldn’t take such change, I think
To see the things I see.
I look out into the world, Father
Which I was awoken to one September morning
When Mother came yelling into my room
About New York’s burning towers
And sleepy eyed and dreary I came out
To watch the towers fall.
I look out into the world
Into which my first best friend was born
And beaten until deformed—
Into which only a number of my many friends
Which fits upon these fingers
Have come and not been molested, raped, and abused
And I see darkness. I see cruelty.
Did you know ‘round about thirty percent of children
Will be sexually abused
But that these numbers can’t be certain
Though they can certainly be believed to be too small
Because we know these things are vastly underreported?
Surely you’ve heard that one in six women will be raped
Though my own anecdotal experience puts that number higher.
Probably you didn’t know that statistics for male victims are unabashedly flawed
Because too many people still don’t believe men can be raped
Though I believe those folks can go right on and fuck themselves.
Or did you know: Native American women are disproportionately victimized
And the only ethnic group so routinely victimized by men
Outside of their ethnic group?
Or that ninety-eight percent of perpetrators
Never see the inside of a jail cell.
I look into the world, Father, and I see
Oppression. Systemic madness even the Joker might balk at:
I watched the protests in Egypt
And saw protestors ran down by police cars, ambulances.
Bodies tossed like dolls under the wheels.
I watched the statue of Saddam Hussein torn down
Mere decades after our government installed him
And today I see Iraq still in shambles
The Islamic world post colonialism shrouded in smoke and flame
Spread by our long meddlesome fingers
And shameless drones—
We are the midwives of hatred
Of division and terror
Too busy with such things
To put out the fires in our own homes—
Men choked by police for selling cigarettes.
Women dangling suspiciously by their necks in jail cells
After failing to use a blinker.
Men running, unarmed, shot in the back—
Widowers and orphans. Childless mothers.
Why, I counter to your question, dear Father
Should I write stories about blissful peace
And merry simplicity
When these are not the things I see
When I look out into this world?
And yet, dear Father, there is this one
Small matter you so often miss
When it comes to the world as I see it
As I report it here:
Amid necessary disease and decay
I also spy blooming like flowers out of the steaming shit
Little specks of irreverent beauty.
Half again the people dearest to me
Have taken to themselves with razor blades and pills
In determined attempt to free themselves from this plain
And still they live
Walking among us singing, laughing, loving
Building themselves into temples
Which I visit for worship
And I among them, with a tattered hide
A survivor, I’ve been called, of the things that were done to me.
Survivors are we all and in our shaken, unsteady hands
Rises a generation who will be better than we.
My very own nieces—your very own granddaughters, my Father
Who were dragged wailing into this world
To watch it slowly dying then raise their eyes to the skies
And know that in that eternal dark stars are being born among the death
And we are but dust in the middle of that
Great cosmic game.
I do not, Father, write the light, carefree, and happy
For those stories, understand, do not churn out survivors.
Rolling meadows made of green colored by flowers blooming
Does not breed beautiful resilience into the bones of their occupants
And it is not softness or dawdling I wish to celebrate.
I do not raise my voice in praise of the candy which rots my teeth
But those mean things which force me bigger, better, stronger than I’ve ever been
And that, Father of mine,
Is why I write the darkness.
Just in case you’re curious what my formatting actually looks like, since WordPress WON’T LET ME.