Commentary Magazine


I Was My Father

I was my father: a bald, full-lipped man
with absent eyes, hoarse throat and mouth of wit,
studied heresy at the cabin hearth,
and bought the Times the first day off the ship.
I was my father; fought the kids who mocked
his poor wild pinching of the spitball class,
missed him like a tooth when I awoke
into adolescence, swore, harassed,
to outfather father: wish, work, win
what he had never dared, or lost. O,
but I was not my father, shrugged away
from his: “I know Job is very strong.
But a man can longer live with Psalms.”
I was not my father; could not hope to say
to my wife the famous solace: “Why
cry? Who knows whether he who found
it, did not need the lost purse more than I?”

What hast thou here, and whom hast thou here that thou hast
hewed thee out here a sepulcher . . . a sepulchre on high?
” (Isa.22:16).

I am myself—not yet, but shall be
less than I become, more than I do,
equal to my friends, less than my love,
more than my work, less than my poetry.
Making and unmaking myself man,
rabbi and charlatan and the between,
and hide myself and give myself away,
and say less than I think, more than I mean.
I build a house which I may not inhabit,
and sow a vineyard which I may not reap,
and play with children who are not my own,
and read a language I may never speak—
and joke and err and plan to be forgiven.
I am all these I do; like Hamlet, have
offenses more than thoughts; but no sword,
except the word I cast into the river.

_____________

 

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