I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction when I’m up to it and poems when I can’t help it. I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. My most recent book is Heiberg’s Twitch.
Prenatal Parental Paternal
That’s me, like the duck in Peter and the Wolf,
a tumescence of tummy, tedious and
two weeks’ tardy.
Please note how she has placed
her hands just so on either side, palms wide.
It’s the way you press ears against screams,
hold basketballs, heft watermelons or,
just before the crescendo, two cymbals.
Notice how smugly she smiles daddycamerawards
perhaps proud of her unswollen calves
or maybe musing in Mozart on me
marveling at Mommy, gravid and enceinte.
Am I an accident, a fantasy fruition
of some seductive song, mere negligence?
Will her striations be held against me?
Did a thick umbilicus of the spirit
pulse within the salt red placenta,
inside the tepid planet-sea of her,
beating at the threshold of our bodies?
Look at her—in love with the idea of me.
In the background a large tired woman,
possibly black, lumbers off a bus.
Four houses peel in vague French grey.
Mother’s homemade dress is cheap gingham.
In this picture taken by my father
she is twenty.
I am zero.
One and one to two were drawn as one
and that two, becoming one indeed,
like droplets of November-driven rain
fused on my nursery’s windowpane,
one thesis egg, antithesis seed,
synthesized in this flesh, this bone.
But two was never one, or rather were, for
civil war cannot bind all unions tight;
when divisibility charges the air
it’s each nose for itself. Look at my hair
all gold and brushed out for the night,
shining like the brass work on the door.
Father’s lap was firm, his arms as strong
as the chimney or the book-rich walls.
Look how unbald his head is as he
hunches lovingly to sniff baby-me
on the crown. Still, a house divided falls
and counterpoint undoes a simple song.
Here you cannot see how my stomach aches
or how lance-like words still hover
over my pink birthday cake. The noise
is inaudible to these girls and boys
all unprepared to duck and cover
or feel the radiation discord makes.
A lying portrait means a lying tale,
yet here the lie in the ensemble lies,
not in my father’s chin or mother’s cheek.
They looked just like that; useless to seek
some cipher in those eyebrows or those eyes.
I know, I’m searching still; and I always fail.
I snapped that one. It’s his mahogany
desk. I placed the pen, that book, his pipe
to imply something, a fourteen-year-old’s idea
of art. Still, you can easily see that,
unlike me, my father is an orphan.
Plump on the mazy Shiraz rug I’d look up;
he’d be staring down at his desk, so I
envied it, and him. He’d yank me
up on his lap and let me draw,
pretend to type, festoon his paperclips,
chains to hold nothing, his attention.
And here I am crying before my bath.
Splendid tub time when the odd trajectory of
his life led to bombing my shampooed onion head
with a beach bucket —such a lovely whoosh.
That blue spruce was in my grandmother’s yard;
it’s summertime, see the edge of the wading pool?
Each July he sent me stories from his desk,
elbows sticking to the urethane,
with inept pictures and jokes I didn’t
get till yesterday.
There you see him
at his ease beside me at my aunt’s.
How we argued over that dress! My legs are
crossed while his are not. You can’t see his
arm’s around my shoulder. I loved turtle-
necks that year.
None of these shows the Prussian
rigor of our life, how order saved us;
none reveals whether he felt locked up
in my helplessness, loathed vacuuming,
cream of wheat, sexlessness, or relished
being every inch my father.
recluse he’s become I thought as I shot
this last one, home from the blue blur of exams
and bathtubs clogged with beer. Mouth shut,
wallet open, he has just declared. His
sweater’s thicker than his hair, but his eyes
pierce the camera lens, sharp with secrets still.
“Prenatal Parental Paternal” first appeared in Western Humanities Review
© 2017 Robert Wexelblatt
© 2017 Robert Wexelblatt
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