Something Small and Heavy

By

Conclusion: To create is not to recreate. To create is to record how one sees the thing itself at one time. This is a portrait of my father and of me and of him and me. This is not a biography, photograph, or method of cloning, not footage, not a transcription—in short: this is not faithful. Think impressionism. Think me earless and hole-riddled till it impairs my eyes. Think the field is on fire with yellow paint. Think the field is on fire with foxes’ tails. Think me a man, head shaved, whose Delilah is another man. Think of me and think of my father. But don’t think you know him by this.

*

Like so many things the television was muted, on it a war blooming 7,334 miles away. I wondered if I was the only one thinking the souls left the buildings too quickly, so quickly, in fact, that the buildings fell down. Fox News cut the footage, an instant and silent revision of history. For him I think this seems safe; this seems comfortable. To see suffering and conflict as a point exactly that far away, as a point on the opposite side of an incomprehensibly large and accurate globe made us both, somehow, convinced, I think. If drones are unmanned they don’t harm the souls of those they kill, right? I think he believes that. I think he believes silence is distance and distance is safety, that distance forgives.

*

He doesn’t really understand what I mean when I say I’m pansexual. I tried to simplify it (for both of us) by saying I’m bi but the problem isn’t the terms we use, it’s what I’m saying. It’s the world of actions that offends here, the implied act that gets under the skin. I’m dating a wonderful boy who speaks French at me and goes on and on about Matisse and Stein.somthingsmall1 I love when he goes on and on about Matisse and Stein. I watch the nicotine stain on his bottom lip. Then I kiss it. This is something I have yet to tell my father even though it’s been almost a year. To tell him is to make what is possible actual. To steal the escape of the hopeful “might be.” To tell him is to make him say to himself, “My only son loves men.”

*

Every flower is fathered even if we don’t think of it that way. I was just reading Louise Glück yesterday and she said, “The cause is whatever is left.” In terms of my father and me I find this terrifying; there will come a day when what’s left is only me.

*

I’ve been thinking of all the ways I want to be like my father, who can sleep so well and so easily, can gut a watch to fix it, can remember the name of every person he meets, can tell you how everyone in my hometown is connected one way or another, can be cold, can be a raw nerve, can be what men are and what they are not, can forget falling or being pushed by his mother, can forget stairs, can forget the houses in which he grew up to become a man who is trying not to be the kind of man that grew up in houses like that, how he succeeds, how he cares for my sick mother, how he figures so prominently in a part of me I don’t look at too closely and a part shaped like a man I find attractive, a man I want to be on top of or beneath. I would like very much to believe we are immortal even if only as a piece of someone else.

*

To think of me is to think of my father just as to think of a burned-out house is to think of fire.

*

I mean to say loving men is difficult; I mean to say loving my father is unavoidable. I can’t say anything straight out. This is because I am his son and a poet. If I could say all of this to him I would. I’d use the average words we use when I open two beers and step over the dogs sleeping on the rug. When I hand him the beer with my left hand as a crowd cheers a thousand miles away all the time meaning to say, “I love you.” Perhaps he means to say “I love you, too,” but the player fumbles the ball. He questions the refs, “Come on! Are you blind?”

*

My father drove all fifteen hundred miles from New Mexico when I moved to Minnesota for grad school. My mother and I took turns as copilot. He drove the SUV, packed to whatever the automotive equivalent of rafters is, all those miles and when the Russian olives forged themselves silver, my father blared the horn heralding the blur of the road’s delineation. He commemorated the flash of the eighteen-wheeler’s side panels as they trembled themselves very nearly into our imagining of what could happen to the driver side mirror. Objects are closer (water spot) they appear. I saw the Russian olives in my father’s eyes and knew it was true. He had leaves for lashes. I plucked them to make a wish, a cobbling of words, the flash of a titanic machine, breathing smoke and trembling like light does on the snow now that it’s winter here again.

*

When my father is truly angry he vacuums. I mean he gets after the entire house, pushing furniture a little too harshly off the rug in the living room, lifting the corner of my parents’ heirloom cast-iron bed. To this day the sustained scream and hum of a running vacuum is enough to give me hives. I often think it’s my fault: I dirtied the house. I said something wrong. I’m not straight. I’d like to ask forgiveness like I was taught to in Sunday school, but it’s much easier to ask forgiveness of God than your father; God’s silence sounds like forgiveness.

*

My mother, who goes on living, asks my father to dam her body by severing the parts that hurt. She tells my father to just do it, to remove her hands with a knife. He cracks and chops carrots in the kitchen. She tells my father to just do it to cut off the place the seizures crack, as if cutting the mouth from the river will makesomethingsmall2 it stop, but a sea is fed by more than one mouth, and the world is filled with manifold seas. She asks to be opened as if pain resides in the body like thirst, when pain is thirst is a strain of desire. I tell her desire isn’t held in the tongue, which is difficult and discomforts me because I already cut my tongue out to stop wanting. When I thirsted still, in my mother’s favorite color, I stitched that muscle back into my mouth sure my father would never learn a new alphabet of desire, not once the threads settled in as part of my body, as scarring.

*

It’s taken so long for my father to become less unhappy. The world is the place that cut his parents apart and instead of halving their cruelty, doubled it. It was also the place he was held up at gun point while delivering pizzas as a young man, ushered under a stairwell and told to hand over all the money. He quit a few days later, I think, but I’ve never asked him about it. I found out years later, after I was born and grown, that I’m good with a shotgun. First time shooting: twenty out of twenty-five clay pigeons. The only time I’ve ever been looked at by another man, the owner of the gun, in a way that made me feel even remotely masculine. This man was and was not my father. For my father, this is also the world that taught him to be, or at least taught him how to be more effectively, suspicious when, as a bank teller, he learned to notice and remember the smallest detail—a jacket’s missing button, the timbre of someone’s voice, unique mannerisms. He had known through decades of silence that my mother’s parents didn’t approve of him. I’ve never asked him about this either, perhaps in the hope that if I don’t know the origin of (that is as opposed to the myth surrounding) my father’s slow and quiet bitterness, I would never catch it. But, helpless in the face of inheritance, like Baldwin I found that “this bitterness now was mine.” Sins of the father revisited again and again. In the small mountain town my parents now live in it has seemed to ebb away a bit, drawn back out into the large and quiet dark of the ocean by some moon-shaped talisman he must have found, quite by accident, and pocketed carrying it with him now always. Like the silver Kennedy half-dollar he gave me, perhaps. Yes, something small and heavy like that.

***

Rumpus original art by A.D. Puchalski.


Trevor is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Minnesota. His poetry and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in The Journal, Bayou Magazine, Thrush Poetry Journal, Sycamore Review, The Collagist, MARY Journal and elsewhere. He received the 2014 Gesell Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2014 MARY Editors' Prize as well as the 2013 Wabash Prize for Poetry. He currently serves as a poetry reader for Slice Magazine, and is the marketing assistant for Graywolf Press. More from this author →