Someone had to decide and so,
unable to find another way,
without preparation, with a mix
of acetylene and wound, like someone
in the middle of a highway about
to get smashed, I ran.

I threw some things in a suitcase.
Without explaining. With a few words
to my six-year-old son, with a pat
on the head and some promises, and my
daughter not even there to say goodbye to.

Someone had to do it because, I
told myself, she will never take
this blame, and it seemed the last
chance to save myself. And so I walked
away, more than ever alone.

Wanting to go back a hundred times, to say
goodbye again, to explain for hours,
to crush them again in my arms, to
apologize again, to be at home, a father
again, even a husband, to ignore
everything and make believe and even hope
it might be.

But stubbornly I made myself go. I
made myself stay away. I went to the
new apartment and I slept there,
trembling alone in a narrow bed like
an auto part in a dusty box, an old
carburetor in a warehouse forgotten
on the waterfront.

Then my son came to visit. Again and again.
It was never enough. Tears withheld that
might ruin our eyes forever. Love and regret
that could tear your arms off. One time he
hit me in the back of the head with a hardball
and I turned and saw the sad fire in his face.
And my daughter couldn’t forgive — hurt,
untouchable, like someone with a terrible sunburn.
Sometimes she didn’t come for weeks.

It all went wrong, I told myself. And now
it’s too late. I have nothing and my heart
is sick. Then one day an odd guy snuck into
the room. I’d known him in college, an oboe
player fond of psychology. Remember, he said,
it takes years, and fell asleep.
The Forest Is Burning In The Palm Of My Hand
My son comes running across acres of grass.
He is twenty-seven years old.
He is eleven years old. He is
four years old.

He turns his hand up to show me —
the distant inner glow, smoke
drifting from him.

He wants to see, so I lift
my hands to the old paths
where fire often danced; 
plateaus of desolation inside my fist.

My son comes running
across acres of grass.
He is four
years old. He
is eleven years old.
He is twenty-seven
years old.
Dream: Initiation
My old father stands beside the used car.
There’s a crack in the windshield, streaks of rust.
It’s a souped-up Chevy, about ’55,
been down the end of a lot of dirt roads.

He looks like a sixty-year-old teenager:
white T-shirt, sleeves rolled up, pack
of Luckies tucked in.

He’s brought a little blonde for the initiation.
She looks sexy but tough as nails.
Tight jeans and a blouse hanging part open.
Her look says: I won’t be easy, but you
can get it if you’re man enough.
I’ll make your dick feel like a scalded

He lights a cigarette and stares at me.
He’s motioning for me to come along.
My father, who hasn’t touched my mother
in thirty-five years. He’s telling me there’s nothing
to wait for. Fuck what anybody thinks.
Fuck what you think yourself. Do
what you have to do. What any man
has to do.

Then I open my eyes, erection
in my hand, messenger from the other world.
But my dream father and the little blonde
will wait. One day I will have to come
to her, barreling along this road
in an old car full of dust and the bitter need
to prove I’m a man.
On The Death Of Jack Lipsitz
As to heaven — since he was no saint,
I’m not sure my father was admitted.
He was the sort, you see, not especially
given to taking orders. If God had
instructed him to butcher his son,
the way Abraham was told, he would
have hesitated, probably offering
an excuse, like an arm gone arthritic,
or, having taken me to the mountain,
would have suffered a case of acute
heartburn and been helped home,

That night he would have whispered
to me: “What is this, killing my son?
The man must have emotional
problems. I hear also he burns cities
supposedly wicked. He must be under
a strain. You have to overlook sometimes.”
And coughing once or twice, would have
fallen asleep.

Had any prophets been around, they
would have preached against his kind.
A man of the belly, they would have said,
giving over his life unto earthly pleasures,
unto suntan and games of chance. A man
never seen in the sanctuaries of the Lord,
but taking himself instead into barbershops,
movies, haberdashers, and, sometimes,
a casino. They would lament his slavery
to convention. A man lacking backbone,
forgetful of the teachings of the Book.

So when he came to the Gate, perhaps
they would have admitted him, grudgingly,
for after all, he had never engaged in
cruelty, had never forgotten entirely how
to love. They would have warned him, though,
and cautioned him to keep to the side streets,
out of sight of the righteous men and women
who spread their pious, obedient wings
on the main boulevards.

After a couple of weeks, he would have
gone quietly to find the gin-rummy players
who live on the outskirts of Hell.
Meeting My Son At The Airport
​I’m there before and I wait.
When he comes through the passageway
I remember his being born,
dark-haired infant pushed out
with his mother’s blood.
Now he carries a colorful
valise on his shoulder and
doesn’t see me. I’m standing
right in front of him and he
doesn’t see me. He doesn’t
let on that he sees me.

This is the moment it is all
said: You walked out on me, Dad.
I won’t ever get angry. I won’t
even feel the betrayal. You
walked out on us and I was
six years old. Now you come
to the airport and I don’t
see you.

For a moment I imagine him
flying at me and knocking me down;
or the two of us, out of breath,
bewildered, on our knees, weeping.
But he walks on, a prince
in gorgeous athletic robes who
stops for no one. And then, as I
reach out for him, he seems
like a blind boy too proud
to ask for help.

I take one of his bags
and hug him. It’s done.
Damage of twenty years ago.
If I live long enough and
he comes back one day to
the small, locked, forgotten
door and I am allowed to
return from this unacknowledged
exile, maybe we will meet again.
Old Self

Many American men . . . do not have enough awakened or living warriors inside to defend their soul houses.

— Robert Bly

I chanced across my old self
today. He was sitting in the second-
floor office where I used to work —
at the typewriter, young, thin guy,
in his late twenties, white shirt, narrow
dark tie, serious demeanor, writing
an essay against the Vietnam War.

I came up the stairs and saw him:
a decent human being, diligent,
not remotely aware of the ambush
life had waiting — not knowing
he’d permit himself to be taken
prisoner and then, in confusion,
do desperate things, betray
what he loved; and that nothing
would enable him to survive
as he was.

I passed the open door
and wanted to cry out — warn him,
force the warriors to raise
their spears. But even hearing
my shout, he would only have
hesitated, then turned back to
his devoted, lonely, and interminable

These poems are excerpted from Seeking the Hook, by Lou Lipsitz, published by Signal Books and distributed by Duke University Press. © 1997 by Lou Lipsitz. They appear here by permission of the author.