[In honor of National Poetry Month, Godine and Black Sparrow poets will be periodically commenting upon their work, their writing process, and the art of poetry.]
"After My Stepfather's Death"
Again it is the moment when I left home
for good, and my mother is sitting quietly
in the front seat while my stepfather pulls me
and my suitcase out of the car and begins
hurling my clothes, though now
I notice for the first time how the wind
unfolds my white shirt and puts its slow
arm in the sleeve of my blue shirt and lifts them
all into the air above our heads so beautifully
I want to shout at him to stop and look up
at what he has made, but of course when I turn
to him, a small man, bitter even this young
that the world will not go his way, my stepfather
still moves in his terrible anger, closing the trunk,
and closing himself into the car as hard as he can,
and speeding away into the last years of his life.
(from The Town of No & My Brother Running,
and the forthcoming Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems)
Note from the Poet
This poem is based on a traumatic event I experienced as a teenager when my stepfather became violent, as he sometimes did, and I had a hard time writing the piece because the facts of what actually happened kept getting in my way. Looking back I remembered how the shirts my stepfather threw landed on the hay stubble alongside the road, and I was drawn to how the stubble poking up through the shirts imitated the hurt I felt. Only when I changed my description and showed him throwing the shirts into the air did the poem begin to feel right, and after the revision came to me, I saw why. Through my stepfather’s gesture of releasing the shirts and creating something beautiful by accident, I had suggested his submerged creative life and a connection between him and me that the son misses and the older narrator observes. In my mind as I rewrote my poem was my stepfather’s artistic self: the soap carvings he saved from his childhood and the awkward drawings he hung in the family house. By making him, to my own surprise, a sympathetic figure whose anger separates him from that self, I reshaped my trauma into a kind of forgiveness.