A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady, Archie Bunker, Mr. Cunningham: what other models? No one expected our fathers to do much beyond buy things, and I wonder whether fathers were relieved or hurt or both by that. We laughed at them. When we weren’t ducking from warning swats, we were busy going through their closets for clues. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know we’d grow up into men one day, but we did think we could avoid becoming boring, filling up with regrets, and even if we stayed in that small town, sighing so much.
Each sentence’s facts. The men appeared at sunset and they left before sunrise usually. On weekends, we ran off into the woods and built forts. When the occasional chore required both my father and I to collaborate, to cooperate, I remember a peculiar painful happiness attending the (always) physical labor, and I think it was the same for my father, although neither of us dared to speak of it. Where feelings were so fragile, words were in fact the enemy.
Sentences as memory. Each sentence is a photograph, or every sentence is a little recovery of a sense. The complexity of those years astounds me now that I try to capture them. The five sentence types can’t represent the five senses. Sentences are devices to manipulate the senses, even as they carry us around, forward, backward, toward the unknown, and we live in an age when people will believe in millennia-old sentences despite the evidence of their own senses.
Enough. There are certain things to be aware of in memory, but they should be a challenge to remembering, not a replacement for it. When my father came home drunk after midnight, he was a monster. I would hold my breath and pray my mother would somehow not respond to him singing so loudly, but she confronted him every time, even though it did no good, even when his voice turned ugly. She was so tired of his nonsense.
Me at the top of the stairs listening. My father’s voice would change from playful to angry suddenly, and my mother’s voice would refuse to change. When he started to shout, I’d walk downstairs as noisily as I could, and I’d yell at them both to stop. That was my job apparently. If it hadn’t been for me, they might have gone their separate ways long before they did.
When he himself was a child and tied to the front porch, having to listen to his father beat his mother, a thing I only heard from my mother, just before I began this piece. I never hid the shotgun, but I should have at least tried. When one of them mentioned that gun after midnight, I would make my body appear before them, so they would remember something other than anger. Because I was the product of their creative power, my body was a sign, a threshold, another urge. It was hard to be there nonetheless.
Copyright 2016 Jeff Oaks. First published by At Length. Republished by permission of the author.