My Manhood from Issue 27
My head battered against the culvert wall, nose
letting down a dark sprig of unChristian blood,
finally I just say down in the ditch and gave up,
my oaths softened, all my victories compromised.
I knew the ball I had carried through cheers
would turn black and rot, what hearts I had won
would be just as easily lost. I raised my arms
and still the knees came up blunt against one ear.
The world shrieked at temple and rang in gut.
In my breath, that would not come, kings swallowed
their tongues, and in my right eye, that
would not open, Mussolini dangled from a hook.
If I could have, I would have taken it all back:
the heavy masculine god, the invincible ghost,
but I brought it on, raised it, and provoked it,
so I drank its puddle water and ate its dirt.
Finally, in the name of reason, I had to ask
the boot that kicked me to walk back to the job,
and I had to watch the bored face smugly turn
among those above my who had been my friends.
Surely defeat, like victory, is larger than man,
its legend stretched out long, imperfect as doubt.
My own ruined, at the most, two minutes,
and then work resumed, hammer and crowbar,
the boss coming, and four more forms had to
be ripped from the wall before quitting time.
What more was there to lose? The secret,
the bitter lie of triumph? The inviolable
face hidden beneath my face? I worked quietly
through the reruns where I won, and others
where I died, humiliated, slow, and small—
a wren wrapped in tissue paper, a salted slug.
This year I was never farther from all that.
This year was the breezy caes along the Seine,
the doors of Ghiberti, the jewels of Van Eyck.
Very gently, south of Venice, the track unrolls
golden hills, tunnels, medieval villages
in the Apennines. My wife slept beside me,
a glad odor of peace, of watered leaves,
but I felt the power that blasted the gneiss
and heard the one who had laid the crossties
whisper, “on your knees, like it, now kiss it,”
and not the artisan of palaces and cathedrals,
but the soldier filled me, the Hun included me,
helpless before his wrath, as he drove south,
indomitable, priapic beast who would claim
all beauty with his fists, not to love art,
but to hold it holy in his rough ideal of
dominion, in his dream of a perfect polygamy.