He is out of work.
We are out of money.
My mother’s patience
makes him feel worse.
He has lost his temper
again and he is sorry.
Priests have told him
ever since he was a boy
to stop touching himself.
He hides the magazines,
thinks himself weak.
In the doorway of a plane,
you jump, you do not
shake and shit yourself,
kicked into the flak-lit
night the stench of you
like a thing already dead.
It is a long way down.
A lot can go wrong, so
he pretends to know
what a man and death is,
nothing under his feet
as percussive waves
of light explode around him
like shots of whiskey.
Later he makes believe
he is still the man he
can’t remember, the boy
he can’t remember.
Maybe there is another
life he was to have.
Maybe he was lazy
and missed his chance.
He wants to be the man
he imagines his wife
loves, the god his father
was to him, the god
he hopes his sons think
him. Complexion: Ruddy
it says on his license.
A doctor diagnoses him
with hypertension.
He loves but still believes
he is pretending.

A son might hold a father
to account for certain
memories, for certain
understandings, to desire
anyone, or anything at all.
A lot can go wrong, so
he pretends to know
what a man and love is.
He may have to help himself
to his father’s shame
for a time to understand.
Sometimes a long time.
And then, even if he turns,
if he rises and bathes
and dresses and shaves
and takes up his life at last,
he cannot say if that is
or is not forgiveness.
The much he must learn
becomes his life. There is
no might have been, no
otherwise or if only, only
the ground under his feet.
Elsewhere men continue
falling from the sky.

(first published in THE MANHATTAN REVIEW, VOL. 15, #1)

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