Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For National Poetry Month: James Applewhite, "Good as Dad"

His name is always Don or Bo or Bud
Or Jesse.  He doesn't know Mozart from dog fart.
He refers to blacks as 'em.  "I seen three of 'em
In a big old Buick.  Perfume on 'em would knock you dead."
He's been known to hit his woman, some dumb
Lip she gave back after staying too late or smart
Answer instead of supper.  He can learn a dog
To mind real good with a stick and maybe birdshot
If the bitch runs off.  A boy, though, that's what
This rangy, soft-voiced man can teach to jog
Behind his strides, to love for the half-playful cuffs.

He teaches him to hunt and set the hook, to duck
When the branch flies back or the shotgun swings on a quail.
He teaches him the silence of the woods, and strength enough
To be right, whether sure or not.  Trusting to luck
Has brought many a skiff back and a man can only fail
If he lets himself, or if a woman gets hold of his heart.
He can kill deer and pull the quivering bass out
Into air to choke.  He spits at the sky, leaves spent
Shells underneath the stand like his spoor.  What the boy
Never learns is not to hate.  He's seen his mother cry,
Watched his daddy's liquor and cruelty, his sentimental
Country-western secrecy and self-pity.  Behind the wheel,
This drunk maniac who has always to be right
Might kill the whole family to prove his whiskey point.
He wears one hand's fingers, missing a joint or two
On some, proudly as a tattoo.  He will be blue
As Christmas and Hank Williams in his thin suit
In the bus station winter.  His suitcase is all he has
At last, with cigarettes and a cough.  His heir quit
Waiting for generosity some time back, when the farm
Went to buy a boat and fish the coast.  Now his ass
Can shine in the wind, the grown son says.  Then with a
He acknowledges kin, takes in, keeps the bad seed warm.

Lessons in Soaring (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Univ. Press, 1989), p. 14.