Boys Not Combat Ready

(Photo Credit: Flickr / TheirHistory)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / TheirHistory)

I want my sons to grow up
in a world where they don’t
need to be trained to defend
their bodies taut at every moment.

They should only need to know fighting
for the exercise, the side-effect physique,
not because they could be beaten
into the wrong side of the sidewalk
they’d stumbled upon in ignorance.

Boys born taking half-breaths and eggshell steps
only learn to breathe after and walk around others.
They struggle to find their own pace and path,
ever worrying what they’ll discover down the road,
preferring to wait until someone else takes it first,
and manages a grand return.

They shouldn’t be required to wear
belts as last-ditch defenses,
lashing back against passersby turned assailants.

I want their hearts and souls
to be bigger so their bodies don’t require
the same girth as their grandfathers’ –
ever puffing and blowing up to inflate themselves,
to intimidate predators from ever attacking.

***

My sons, you will break bones and bloody noses
with your minds.

You will wrestle with your fear
and win, one day, unlike your father.

You will stand tall for what you believe is right,
not slink away and hope the issue resolves itself.

Because it never does, and folks will take
advantage of your weakness,
your quietness, your foolish and pitiful
attempts at appeasement.

They will rip your belts from your hips
and use them to beat you into submission
until all you have left to give them
is your blood. But they won’t want it.
It’s not strong enough to drink.

For Tommy’s Cracked Skull: An Inquisition

(Photo Credit: Flickr / REZ*)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / REZ*)

As you laid in the hospital for four days
with inhuman tubes running from unnatural orifices,
I wondered: what was running through your head
as it tried to escape your skull?

Did it keep replaying those final few seconds
like game tape, grasping wildly to piece together how
you happened to topple from the pickup truck bed
and accelerate toward the ungiving ground?

Did it dream of your future wife,
the children you would one day birth and raise –
their genetically inexplicable and untamable curls
bouncing about in your suburban backyard?

Did it joke to itself
about how this was all so damn theatrical,
and how you always wanted people
to flock to a room and just watch you be;
but how ironic it is that your
most talked-about and moving role
might be playing dead in the ICU?

Or did it return to the bayous
where you were first born into memory,
take one last look around and, instead,
decide that it could do better
than to end it like this?

The Predator and His Pride

(Photo credit: Flickr / Marc L'esperance)
(Photo credit: Flickr / Marc L’esperance)

I

I prefer you as a potentiality,
the tease and hunt rather
than the taste of blood
from first bite.
It’s always so disappointing.

I’d rather salivate from afar,
the honey dripping from my mouth
and drawing you closer, ever closer
to my slaughterhouse.
Even with all my camouflage and mimicry,
I’m still a predator, and I must feast.

II

The voyeurs in their safari trucks will report:

Now look there, mates!
That wild beast must be absolutely starving!
They rarely roam this far from their homes.
And, awh hell, he must be damn desperate, too.
Animals of his caliber only ever eat that prey
after all other options have been chased away.
See how he cowers when we notice him;
his pride must be suffering terribly this season.

III

In lion prides, it is only the female who hunts.
She stalks better, knows best when to strike
and when to otherwise tarry,
patient for the perfect opportunity,
unsacrificing in her practiced, savage ritual.

The males are too large and too loud,
their manes alerting all to their presence.
Each lioness may run to him for protection
from time to time, but they could survive
fine without him, if they had to.
Should they grow thin and desperate enough,
they would likely, easily turn on him, outnumbering
and devouring his boastful, excessive body.

But they like to keep him around
as an alternate source of protein,
something fresh to preserve their strength
when the wild hunt proves to tiresome.

He does not know how close to death
he lives his life. His harem keeps him
distracted, just the way they like –
with tear of tooth and bloodied fur
far from his sated, foolish mind.

The Name and The Port

Ivan Kačić Barišić, pictured here on the right during a visit back to his hometown of Sućuraj, Croatia.
Ivan Kačić-Barišić, pictured here on the right during a rare visit back to his hometown of Sućuraj, Croatia.

When the ship docked into a port
my grandfather had never before seen –
and would take years to learn to speak –
he was willing to change his name
for this piece of fabled earth.

He chopped off the front half
of his family, his heritage, altered
the spelling for ease of English tongue,
smudged the accents with pride
to transform himself
into just another thread.

A half-century later,
his wish was granted:
The country that adopted him
and he so adored folded
him into a tri-color flag
before she swallowed him within
her concrete fortress for one final furlough.

***

Today, I bear the Americanized edition
of his first name as my middle –
the work already done for me
and tucked tightly between the folds.
My passport – a golden ticket of access
and privilege – too often sits in its own waste
by my staying in and holing up at home.

I will never know his fear
of abandoning everything to wholesale
claim a new home unseen –
the war of the motherland still barking
loud enough to be heard oceans away.

But at least here, with all our copy-pasted
prints and mass-produced fabrics,
I will never have to change our name
again for the sake of survival.

From the Feet Up (after Gil Scott-Heron)

(Photo Credit: Flickr / McKenzie Lloyd-Smith
(Photo Credit: Flickr / McKenzie Lloyd-Smith

We were born weak
always told and taught to follow
in our fathers’ footsteps;
abide by their wisdom,
only make waves
when they ask us
to swim or splash.

But the water they used to make
their Kool-Aid has soured,
and their dyes are now fading
loosening their grip with the loss
of their color.

When men die, they always turn gray.
And gray is only beautiful when paired
with some shade more vibrant,
some flower tucked in his funeral coat,
reminding us of how alive we used to be,
of how much concrete we can still crack.

And then we feel our youth return to us,
shake off the dust of the follower
and take on the dirt of the founder –
unconcerned with whomever may
one day retrace our deep footprints
in the red, wet clay.

Our leaders are only the heads of corpses,
and they can only move so far without their feet.
And it’s the feet who will lead
this next march,
the feet who will walk
the greatest paths,
the feet who will kick
this from the ground up.

And when we take our rest,
we will slip off our shoes and appreciate
them for their scuff marks and thinned soles,
proud of how far we have walked
without anyone there
to hand us directions.

The Millworker, Sans Mill (of James)

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Peter Bongard)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Peter Bongard)

You are too tall, stretched thin by years of labor,
pulled lanky under the heat of furnace –
like a piece of taffy severed from the rest of its body
now stuck between greedy child’s teeth.

Your face bears the mark of the squinter,
widower crow’s feet scratching at the corners of your eyes
hoping to shield them from the flash and burn of melted steel.

Your accent belies you. An inverted migrant
who worked his way south because the blast and kiln
no longer dissolved enough ingots of pig iron
to keep you answering to the factory bell.

You were in the first shipment to the slaughterhouse,
them hoping to get one last cut of bacon to bring home
of you, not for you.

But you lived lean for long enough
and could smell when it was time to run again.
The smokestacks didn’t need to crumble
for you to realize what the next shovel
of fire fuel was bound to be.

Actress / Another Prop

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Angharad Segura)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Angharad Segura)

Your home is a studio.
All your possessions have been bought
for you by a propmaster who’s confident
he can define you with objects.

Your clothes fit you like a well-timed ad,
and the costumer will get a bonus
for showing just the right amount
of your cleavage this season.

Your movements are acts
of stringless puppetry.
Your words are only yours
when you flub a line and the director deigns
to keep it because it sounds more “natural.”

Your emotions were once yours,
but you’ve since sold them for a few
cheap laughs at some writer’s bad joke
and the chance to make it,
whatever that may mean this week.

Grown men will hold themselves
and magazine portraits of you,
wishing they could be inside,
praying for the chance
to get to know you better.

But they’ll never learn:
You’re just an actress playing yourself,
and you don’t know what to do
when the camera quits rolling.

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau

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