You come home from the barber shop
with a buzz cut like my old flat top,
and suddenly before my eyes
you’re not the boy I recognize;
my son, my thriving epitaph,
you’re me, stepped from a photograph
when I wore features you wear now
in antique clothes. I marvel how
I see you through my father’s eyes,
bemused by old perplexities,
the fear of death, the fear I will
do harm. Such prospects keep me still
about this past you do not know,
for I determined long ago
to hold his goodness high above
his vices, and to call this love,
a stretch that keeps me in the dress
of threadbare virtues I profess.
All day I’m dizzy. What is true,
am I my father, me, or you?
You beg me for a game of catch,
and as we throw the ball, I watch
the way you cock your throwing arm,
just like I did, and my heart warms
with haunting gestures that remain
tenacious in the human gene.
My close faults show me as I age
how shadows clothe our heritage,
yet in your features I can find
my father’s face redeemed by time,
his stern accoutrement of face,
made lovely by your ignorance.
But style reminds me you are you
in your designer jeans and shoes,
confirms I am the older one,
a westward going, happy man.
I find in you, my thriving boy,
the fashion and the cut of joy.
non equidem invideo, mirror magis –Vergil, Eclogue I
Come with me to the fields and lay us down.
Give up the gridlocked streets, come lay us down.
Our walls are cedar and our roof is green,
the titmouse song is sweet, come lay us down.
The cardinal puts on his crimson alb
that’s bright as my desire, come lay us down.
Here Gilly Flowers bloom and Columbine,
and springtime still conspires to lay us down.
We’ll dress like rustics, try to figure out
what on earth a kirtle is. Come lay us down
among the Virgin’s Bower and Live-Forever.
Your body is the fairest bloom. Come lay us down
and wear the meadow and its earth perfumes
that last when flowers fade. Come lay us down.
If silliness and innocence, a formal
voice of love might move you still, come lay us down.
I have prepared a shelter for your comforts,
where love’s strong cord will bind, come lay us down.
I hold the flap back on this silken tent.
Come to this cot of love and lay us down.
Blood’s acid bath,
like tea leaves,
a Hiroshima dose
in cell walls,
blasting its banistered,
Dead or alive,
lab coats beguiling
with flattering statistics,
into the crowd of bystanders
with the gambler’s slow
chips toward a wager,
dead or alive.
the downed, domed
in toilet water
till vomit spoils
that oval locket.
The heart’s Geiger
ticking in a poisoned
two headed calf.
Scott Ward, professor of literature and creative writing, is chair of the Creative Arts Department at Eckerd College, where he has taught creative writing for twenty years. He has an M.A., University of South Carolina. He has two books, Crucial Beauty (1991, Scop Publications) and Wayward Passages (2006, Black Bay Books). His poems have appeared in America, Southern Humanities Review, Hollins Critic, Blue Mesa Review, Shenandoah, and The Christian Century. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with wife, Jana, and sons, Caleb and Garland.
Q: The phrase “the fear I will do harm,” caught our attention in your poem “Haircut.” While we know how the older generation can inflict harm on the younger, in what ways does this work in reverse?
A: Well, I guess one reason adults harm their children is because harm was done to them by their parents when they were children. Doing harm becomes a sort of genetic transference, which is one metaphor upon which the poem meditates. I guess in some ways, “the fear I will do harm,” is the key to the poem because it seems to be about the speaker’s shoring up a variety of resources to prevent his doing harm. Recognizing the possibility of doing harm is one way. Forgiveness is another. Can one be free with people in the present while being imprisoned by others in the past? The attention the speaker pays, looking carefully at his son and seeing his beauty and illimitable potential for goodness, is another. I think the speaker realizes that he is the custodian of that potential in his son’s life and tries to live up to that duty. And finally, I think this speaker realizes the possibility of the work of joy. Oscar Wilde once quipped that a sentimentalist is one who wants to enjoy an emotion without paying for it. The speaker of the poem knows he must die, but that knowledge is not oppressive; rather, it incites him to love, to cultivate relationships, to enjoy the present—this is conveyed in the metaphor of dress.
Q: Talk for a moment about the joys of the couplet.
A: Ah, an excellent question. The couplet is a superlatively versatile verse stanza. In the hands of a poet like Martial, it is the murderous thrust of a knife. In the work of Pope, it arranges poetic material with elegance and wit, lending grandeur to reason’s productions and creating the comfortable illusion that the world has an ordained, discernible order. It is also good for narrative, which is how I try to employ it here, attempting to use the couplet to represent, arrange, and pace a story and, along the way, using the individual stanzas to pay off an occasional moment of lyric intensity. These are my goals, even though I fall far short. And the joy of the couplet? Well, working in each line toward the marriage of voice and measure; discovering rhymes that engage the reader with the dynamic emotional and psychological possibilities of the poem’s situation; working toward the moment of concentration when the poem begins to lead the poet in the couplet’s elegant ball room movement; crafting two-line poems that come together to make a poem.
Q: As Issue 31 will be appearing in the depths of January, what kind words might you have to say for the first month of the year, or for midwinter wherever you may find yourself?
A: When I read Lao Tzu, I am always humbled by his generous intention toward the reader. Here are some of his lines, which are good lines to recite at any beginning point in the year, in the heart, in the life, translated by the wonderful American poet Stephen Mitchell:
Be content with what you have. Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.