One day my father said, Get in the goddamned car,
and so I did, and he drove us about five miles
out of town, where he parked on an empty shoulder,
shut the Ford’s engine off, and then turned to me
and said, You have a weak personality. I said,
What the hell does that mean? And he said, You know,
when you speak, the way you talk, laughing and using
all that fancy-assed, flowery language, you do not
impress other men, serious men, for whom life
is a serious business
. I said, after a long silence,
weighing my fate for what I was about to say,
I don’t give a flying fuck about impressing
other men. I can tell you, though, that I care
about impressing Patricia Lea Gillespie,
if that’s the sort of thing you’re worried about.

You read poetry, he said. Yes, I do. I even
memorize it.
His eyes widened. Why would you do
a thing like that? So that I can recite it
, I said.
Here’s one that I recited to Patricia Lea
quite late just the other night.
And so I began.
His car at that time was a two-tone rusted-out
Ford Falcon with a sluggish, nervous ignition, so
when he quickly reached for the key and turned it,
wrenched it furiously, swinging that small tragedy
of a car back onto Hiway 83, and headed for home,
I began, as I say, not just for the moment
but for all time and for all young men caught
in the rush of passion and sudden confusion
when the heart cannot speak but the man—oh yes,
the man-absolutely must, she’s so beautiful,
the moon in platinum waves rippling down
her raven-black hair, and I rolled down my window
of that piece-of-shit car and I sang it out, far out
beyond the stalks of uncut wheat, beyond the corn
and soybeans, oh ever beyond the soybeans, and even
the beef cattle standing mute behind barbed wire
in a boredom so gigantic, so heavy it should
put God to shame, beyond Bryan’s Corner where I once
saw Kerouac and Ginsberg and William Burroughs
stopping for a cheeseburger and fries on their way
to south Texas and future literary fame and
an almost endless supply of what native Texans
called Marihoona. My poem, I swore, spoken loudly
and very well as my father stomped the floorboard
with every burning word, would never end,
even after we hit the gravel in the driveway
at home and I finally leaped out and took a bow
for Dylan Thomas, and all of Kansas rose up
in the dry fields and applauded the art of poetry,
and Patricia Lea Gillespie later that night
gave herself to a boy who loved to read poetry,
a language so sweetly powerful and burdened
with the mysteries of the human heart that it became
my language:

In my craft or sullen art,
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms…

And I remember the grim, tight mask of his face
inflamed now by the porch light as he lurched
for the front door and I sang to Kansas poems
I so loved that they became a kind of revenge.

B.H. Fairchild