I thought I’d post a different sort of poem today. So much of my poetry is consumed with the father-son relationship that I sometimes lose perspective of the fact that, yes, I’m a father, as well. By no means does that mean exploiting my daughter for my art; rather, it’s taking the subject matter the world handed me and finding the art within it. Isn’t that what art is: an interpretation of fact and fiction, funneled through the artist and illustrated as the final product?
I don’t remember ever sharing the following poem — not in a workshop, not with friends, not with anyone. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of it or trying to hide anything; I just didn’t have the audience for it. My daughter turns six this year, and I think I wrote the first version of this poem back when she was about a year old, so some time during 2005. I’m reminded regularly of the challenges not of being a parent, but being the parent of a little girl. Constantly people “warn” me that I’d “better watch out,” because soon enough she’ll be grown up and the boys will be banging down my front door. And I, of course, do the contrived laugh, where I give the knowing wink and mutter nonsensical things like, “Yeah, well.” But in truth, I do worry about these things, and it scares the hell out of me. I’m an overprotective parent as it is, so to hear her say, “Freddy’s hot!” while watching Freddie Prinze, Jr. in Scooby Doo is enough for me to lock her in her room for all of time.
“Him, On the Rings” is not only a poem about protecting those we love, and the inevitable inability to do so, but the double standard that exists between boys and girls, men and women. Hopefully that dichotomy is evident. Again, this poem is, well, raw, in that it hasn’t been critiqued, workshopped, or even read.
Him, On the Rings
When she finally does call
in the middle of the night, let it be
to tell me her gymnastics team
won States, and was forced to leave
immediately for Nationals in Des Moines.
But even then the captain of the boys’ team,
who holds the under-fifteen record
on rings, might move in and sweet-talk her
with stories of how he once nailed
an Iron Cross for ten seconds straight.
My daughter, poor thing, will eat it up
the same way Ali Carter did back
in 9th grade gym, the day she watched me crack
two homers out over the left field wall,
both of which I hit for her, or so I said,
certain it would get me nothing less
than my hand up her shirt, and if lucky
the chance to unhinge the purple bra
I once sneaked a peek of. When it worked,
I was forever picked on and razzed
by my idiot friends, and reveled in it
because that’s what boys do. So when
it’s my daughter who moves into that place
I can no longer be a part of, where boys
sneak glances down her blouse
and imagine what it would be like to kiss her,
I’ll try to remember that a boy on the rings,
who’s able to float mid-air and splay
his spindly arms from his barely pubescent frame
like a child Christ, is still a boy.
And no matter what kind of lies spill
from his lips, about losing track of time,
or posturing, Oh, it was ten o’clock
you wanted her home, I’m not too old
to put him through a wall, and if need be
find the old man who could give a shit
what his punk kid does, high-fives him
when regaled with stories of how
his boy scored. In the end I’ll find son
and dad both, stand up for my baby
and for once be a father to my little girl
whether she likes it or not.