I wanted to share these two poems as a brief vignette. They both speak of my own struggle to make sense of what it means to be a good southern man as I learn to let go of patriarchy but also embrace the strength, graciousness, and respect which are also often embodied in our cultures’ idea of being a good southern gentleman.
I am thankful for the examples like I described in these earlier posts of how we can find new ways of living out what it means to be a good, southern man less bound by patriarchy and its oppressive patterns while also embracing the gifts manhood and masculinity produce.
Unheeded Restraining Order
“I asked you not come,”
I whispered to her
while my heart lay open,
aching and broken on the table,
all ground gone from beneath my trembling feet.
Like the rabbit in the corn field
behind the house we later shared
when it was spooked by one of our howling dogs,
I had turned tail,
Trying so hard to run,
to hide in the solitary space
of my little rented room
that sat unseen in the bright California sun
sheltered beside the three orange trees
I liked to sit by and read
on warm spring days.
I was no rabbit, swift-footed and sure.
I crept away slow hoping to go unnoticed,
hunkering down like
some bear returning to his cave
holing up at the first winter chill.
She would not let me be,
would not let me slumber in secret.
Despite my hiding, she saw me.
She sought me out
and when she found me,
it was you I saw.
I told you not to come, heartache,
I banned you from beneath my roof,
remembering how daddy went to work
every day but one
even when sick.
“Don’t come”, I thundered
because I wanted to pull it together,
to man up, just like him.
Men after all, I remembered, fix things.
They aren’t broken.
Like daddy, I wanted to carry the world
heavy upon my strong shoulders.
I would handle it.
But, grief, you came anyway
and when I saw you,
like that clothes-strewn, hidey-hole of a room
we hide away from the guests.
I wanted to shut the door,
to hide you, never to be seen again.
Yet it is into you she walked when she strolled in,
and it is you I saw in her autumn eyes.
Is it any wonder?
After all, for all my talk of wanting, like him,
to carry it all like some shimmering globe upon my shoulders,
I remember seeing that globe
come rolling off from his back
with a noisy crack
splintering into a thousand glittering shards
dusting my floor like fresh-fallen snow,
Wild Turkey on his breath,
voice cracking on the phone,
he fall apart before me.
When I told him then “don’t call me back drunk”
how much was I not wanting that poison on his lips
and how much was I wanting to take that sight of him
shattered and broken
into that room with you,
so that you could stay hidden from my view.
But now as I sit
braced for the cold
looking back at that day
as across a sea of years
once blown by tempest
but now still as a mirror
reflecting the morning sun
I know her coming was a gift.
I had to see you in her eyes, to see me in mine.
I had to hold you, though your pieces cut, to let go.
I had to watch you eclipse my sky,
for sitting in your shadow,
my pain and anger fell like orange leaves upon October ground.
And it was the water of those tears in my eyes,
the wind from the curses and whimpers upon my lips,
which grew the seed of beginning again
budding into the laughter and smiles
that now grace my face
which, with those waters, is now lit by amber sunrise.
All Souls Cafe
In a quiet coffee shop they gather,
Allison Kraus piping over the speakers.
“Water please,” the first to sit mutters
as his disheveled form plops unceremoniously.
His rasping voice continues “it is at least free.
“I’ve been on better times”, he whispers.
“Life has not been good to me.
I almost couldn’t make it here.”
He barely sits, nervously moving,
eyes racing, with the look of one on the run.
“It just isn’t working
each time I think I have found the one
through my fingers it streams
a handful of sand and sea”.
Across the table, goateed and fedoraed,
head high, shoulders erect, sits another.
Bold, courageous, eyes bright, radiant aura.
“Let me help you, my brother,”
he says confidently, no cracking voice
clear and crisp like spring rain,
while he flashes out a shining card.
“Things may not be easy,” he says,
“it hasn’t come together yet, to be sure.
But you see I’m just on my way.
Of dreams I will never be poor
and with them I will lay
a path to a bright tomorrow.”
Credit card in hand, he pays
a meal for them both,
bought on borrowed hope.
He passes across the table a bright colored
hard backed book, dogeared by years.
Its pages open, when their eyes turn outward…
The bell sounds, footsteps falling from the door.
Looking they both see him, dark clad.
His laugh like an ocean roar
yet with eyes focused and sad.
He pulls a seat back, ever studious, each move measured.
Leather book, with golden pages, he carefully lays
between them. “I have my own Word,”
he says, “with not a single trace
of the uncertainty of your empty dreams”.
He gestures, finger outstretched,
at his goateed companion’s open book.
“I always wonder why you don’t take that damned collar off,”
the dreamer speaks, “its white seems so stifling
and the heat is too strong for black.
You need a touch of color, like me”
His laughter is like robin’s cry in morning
and the whippoorwill at even-time
And so the dreamer and visionary,
the failure who cannot provide,
the man of God on holy mission
gather to have another meeting of the minds.
Looking in this soul cafe,
as always, my heart trembles
hoping, fearful, ever wondering
which voice shall have pull
which path shall be my way
whose word is my truth?