"you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." Genesis 35:10
Having been your slave these seventeen years, I am
too weak to resist you, and yet I am too much
in love with you to do anything but shudder
at the suggestions of rebellion. However,
I have my ways. I manage to couple with fire
if only for brief moments of isolation.
Hold me, for like an addict, I embrace this jail,
these sour blank walls, this grime covered floor. Take me,
and bash my head against the rock I slept upon.
I have grasped my brother's heel, pulling us both down.
So now that I've been moved by your lightness, I must
not let go until you bless me and change my name.
Coffee, conversation, and a deliberate walk
in the black cold morning before morning are fuel
for this slow awakening. I stumble, groggy
and uncertain, toward the whimper, toward the lamp light,
where I'm no longer thirty-four, but five or six,
and Dad is still alive but killing my mother
beneath him. Did I learn in this wrongly-lit room
to mistrust and to spoil my senses? On the floor
and in the yard my parents fought, while in the dark
I watched them with half-closed eyes, praying I would not
greet the morning with the shiver of seizures and
the shame of unexplainably wet pajamas.
Kneeling is no longer sufficient. The gesture
seems for human eyes now, and people can't forgive.
They wouldn't if they could, even for distant wrongs.
Head bowed, I wander, then snap to self abasement
or justification. So I might as well sleep.
Fasting is futile if I remain a glutton.
Besides, food can kill so many ways. Discipline
is merely diet, easier to do when poor.
With money in the pocket, it seems unneeded.
With piety so tenuous and your face lurking
in mystery, what move can my soul make to pull
these steps out of my circle and fall into grace?
In this grave of craving, taking divergent roads,
shutting out the memory of previous splits
is routine. Debilitating, clung-to routine.
As Frost said, we get few second chances, but now
I see that those I get I blow like just so much
sneezed out dust. Even when the lesson has been learned
and the rear end remembers the belt,
every path is perilous when walking alone.
God give me solitude but not isolation.
Help my companions to be with me and not mere
passersby. I'm eating at a table for one
and the quail I ordered tastes like a broken sigh.
Larkin was half right: though they don't mean to, parents
fuck you up. Even the worst can leave you some shred
of goodness to work with. But all of them leave you—
and they all leave you—issues for therapy.
There are scores to settle, and more battles to fight
than all of space can hold. Besides, we are unarmed.
That is, we haven't the right weapons for this war.
So here I am saying fuck, wishing I didn't think
about it all the time, praying I don't get fucked
too bad today. I'm hoping, God, that you don't mind
me talking this way to you, trusting your respect
of honesty, though words might offend my mom.
Ironic. I'm in the doctor's office waiting
to see him about my hip while I write a poem
about wrestling with God. Further, my leg does not
interest them so much as a pain in my shoulder
connected, by some leap of science figuring,
to indigestion. I'm worried about walking,
and they want to hook me up to this flat machine
to see if I'm eating too much mexican food.
Apparently, these sixty extra pounds tell them
nothing. Ok, I'll cut down on the rellenos,
and eat only AMA approved vegetables.
Just let me go. Send my bill to my confused heirs.
Great Tom went nuts on the way to the waste land. (So?)
No wonder. He went to London to rid himself
of his father, but found the prude in every room
he tried to score in. And even when the old man
left this life, Tom carried the corpse through the jungle
in a war within a war. His respectable wife
was slowly going mad, draining his energy
while she gave him something like life.
He saw a glimpse of Hell's sulphur in the yellow fog,
stubbed out his French cigarette in his clean Swiss room,
and maybe wondered if he could afford the price
Dante paid for increasingly ignored visions.
Remember when I pretended you were my priest
and made my rehearsed confession? I bowed my head
reverently, nodding at presumed absolution.
How did you credit my ill-equipped faith in you?
I was a child, ignorant to all except form.
You were the only father I could trust though years
would pass before I was aware of betrayals.
Rising from my tiny cell I went to play clean,
or sensing that I could be clean. Knowledge tainted,
I'm looking back as I stumble forward, tripping
over a string of grace: I can't escape the fact
that only you have raised a son to be risen.
"That's why I wear glasses," my father said calmly,
explaining why I was not to make mudballs and
throw them in my brother's face. Dad's flat expression
and level voice make me certain this discussion
would not be the end of the matter. There are forms
to fill out, important pains that must be taken.
"You're gonna get ten," I heard as I watched his belt
point to the place on the bed where I was to lie.
I counted each slap of leather against my butt
and forced the pain to keep away from my tear ducts.
I'll be a man about this, I told myself. But
when he was through, my Dad looked like he'd been punished.
I can't even sleep right: my snoring shakes the house;
my few dreams raise hope high enough for great crashes;
what passes for rest is often interrupted
by the demands of a long neglected body,
or a daughter's whimper of fear and poverty,
my wife's worry over issues that can't wait.
Too often I've held my infant son on the couch,
and as he sank into comfort, I fell asleep.
It makes a funny picture, but a lousy life.
But he stays. Though he can walk now and soon will run
(sometimes in slumber I hear the laughter he leaves),
for now, in these brief, tired minutes, we repose.
When does the mea culpa end? Dad and Mom leave
each other and I see in each expression blame,
but I can't read, at least not these unspoken words.
Dad can't stop drinking so I write him a letter
as if his sobriety is on my shoulders.
My parents argue worse after I masturbate,
and I wear loathing like a coat made from road kill.
So many ifs pervade, logic becomes useless.
I can't control cancer or incompetence, but
I can imagine connections where God has not
drawn clear lines. I know better but I know nothing.
Forgive me fathers for I have been a bad son.
I hear the Dies Irae now, its tempo set
not by my heartbeat, but by the hidden, icy
footsteps attempting to drown a numberless clock.
Systems upon systems preach human precision,
and agendas become C.E.O's of life.
Goodness is defined by distorted images
of a God whose mercy is hard to wrestle with.
And yet, neither mercy nor goodness are extinct:
remnants surrender to the happy coercion
of the spirit. So will I. I have read so much
that I'm only beginning to see the journey
as teacher. I limp now, but stooping, gather much.
Michael Neal Morris has published online and in print in Borderlands, Lynx Eye, The Conch River Review, Illya's Honey, The Distillery, Dogwood Tales Magazine, The GW Review, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, The Mid-South Review, Chronogram, Contemporary Rhyme, Haruah, T-Zone, Flash-Flooding, Glassfire Magazine, Mouth Full of Bullets, and Sniplits. He lives with his wife and children just outside the Dallas area, and teaches Eastfield College.
copyright © 2008, Michael Neal Morris
—Annabel on the Eighteenth Floor
C. L. BRUSSEL
JASON ERIK LUNDBERG
—Rhapsody in Transverse Vibration
—The Red Door
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
—Several Stories, Single Bound
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
MICHAEL NEAL MORRIS