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.
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 finger. 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, burping. 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.
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 work.
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.