On Trying To Explain A Friend’s Divorce To My Young Son In The Kitchen One Morning
Why? he says while working away at a tiny piece of toast and a vast mountain of jam.
They just weren’t getting along is probably the best way to explain it, I guess, I mutter,
And then for the next few minutes, as I perform the coffee ablutions and he guzzles jam
And neither of us says a word, I think of all the words that could be said but will not be,
Affair and recrimination and despair and arguments and shrieking and weeping and lies,
And kids and counselor and house and pain and contract and money and rights and law,
And visitation and separation and tears and grief and disbursement and death of warmth,
And all the other words now packed in boxes, joy and babies and laughter and promises,
All the hard work between them, all those dishes washed, all those nights with sick kids,
All those days side by side silent in the garden, and one hands the other a bottle of beer
Without a word, and the other grins, and they sit for a moment watching hawks overhead,
All the lines of conversation they finished for each other at dinners with friends, all those
Hours driving when nothing needed to be said because each knew the other well enough
So that she would turn the radio louder just when she sensed he was weary at the wheel,
All the times he did what he did not want to do because he knew it would mean so much,
All the mornings when neither was awake but neither was asleep and the hours were rife
With small pains and great promise, when no matter what broke they would figure it out.
They just weren’t getting along, is probably the best way to explain it, I say again quietly,
And my son, a subtle and intelligent soul, finishes his mountain of jam and disappears.
On West Stark Street,
In The City Of Portland,
In The State Of Oregon,
I tell you about your boy Jesus,
A thin man says to me one day.
Jew-boy. You people forget that.
He Jewish through and through.
His religion born a talking bush.
Come on now, the bush burning
And God talking out the bushes!
Come on now. Some guy dream
That one up, you know that true.
Come on now, Jesus saving you!
Come on, he long dead and gone.
He not save you from whatever.
Save you from truck hitting you?
I don’t think so. From the police?
I don’t think so. From tax man?
Buddha not saving us all either,
Not Mohammed, not the Shiva,
Not Martin Luther King neither.
Man, no one save you. You save
You. That the way it always was,
That the way it always shall be.
This the part where I say amen.
You say it too, man, y’all say,
Amen, to that, brother. Amen!
Things I Am No Good At (A Selection)
Girls, carpentry, patience, hunting, plumbing, writing plays.
Appreciating ballet, mime, and performance art of all kinds.
Arriving at anything like cordial terms with rap and hip-hop.
Giving anyone on any talk-radio station the slightest chance.
Flying a plane, filling out tax forms, letting laundry stack up.
Meetings. Also singing, although I am an excellent hummer,
Persistent and relentless to the point of driving people insane.
My kids, for example, laugh at me and then after a while tartly
Say, Dad! in the way they say, Dad! when Dad! really means
Daaaad, your off-key moaning droning is embarrassing us.
The thought occurs to me, in what I hope is the middle of my
Remarkable existence, that the one thing I am totally good at
Is mortifying my kids, which doesn’t seem an altogether bad
Thing to be good at. I mean, first they laugh, which is a good
Thing, and then, even as they roll their eyes all drama-queeny
For their friends, they are sort of grinning, not at all ashamed
Of the old man, that’s just what he’s like, their dad, not at all
Like other dads, who can fix cars and invest in mutual funds.
In fact, the fact of the matter is that whenever I get pretty dark
About mutual funds and crisis planning and the creaky house,
I find myself humming, or more accurately I am told that I’m
Humming by an exasperated child. But the half grin he wears
When he says that, or the smile she wears — that’s everything.