It's just poetry, it won't bite

How We Learned to Be Men

01.12.18 Posted in today's words by

Thomas Locicero’s most recent poem to appear here was “33 Gun Purchases, No Red Flags” (December 2017)

How We Learned to Be Men
By Thomas Locicero

I was raised in the houses of friends,
consoled in the bosoms of their mothers.
There, in safe-houses scattered about East Islip,
I learned to have fun from the fathers.

How could I expect as much from mine,
who was eight when the Depression hit
and from then raised by aunts who didn’t want him,
handed off like a loaf of bread, only the bread

would have been coveted then, his mother
having died—how? he never told me;
his father on a government assignment—
doing what? something having to do with meat.

I learned this later, when it was too late:
In my father’s neighborhood, every boy
wanted to be him, “then the damn war happened.”
It would take a Great War to take a great boy.

But somewhere in his soul, there was a flicker,
a once-upon-a-time brilliance blotted
by the ambitious vacuum of a black hole,
and I was happiest when I saw it.

It never announced its arrival;
its suddenness surprised me, like a soldier
sent to liberate me from the fate
I’d assented to expect and accept.

We’d be gathered at the kitchen table,
my sisters, my brother, our cousin—
my mother could see us from the den
where she’d knead her useless legs—

and we’d listen to his stories and cry
laughing. When did he collect them? How?
Why couldn’t they become the larger part of him?
Never mind, never mind, never mind.

When the other dystrophy, the one no one
knows about, invoked eminent domain
on her muscles, she simply submitted
and I knew she could no longer be

my mother the way my friends’ mothers were,
making sure I was fed, bathed, held, nurtured, read to,
did my homework, or even came home at night.
And when the days of her legendary cooking

were behind her, my father, despite
working two jobs, took over the duties.
The day of the transition, I used my fingernail
to scrape a gray hair from the grease of the

vent hood and I cried and cried out
as if my mourning could redeem my childhood.
And I cursed my mother and later heard
my father whispering to her, “Do you think

this is the way for a child to grow up?”
I couldn’t understand how he could
understand. Then I understood.
A child does not need to live through

a Great Depression and a Great War
but only live them through another.
I am breathing my father’s secondhand smoke.
Now my mother is gone and he is dying

and I am flying across the country to see him
intubated and with no hope in his eyes.
The pulled plugs have torn his scalp
and the doctor tells me it could be minutes.

So there he is, the scarred Marine, the marred
father gesturing to his mouth.
He wants to say something. I’m sorry? I love you?
Never mind, never mind, never mind.

4 Responses to “How We Learned to Be Men”

  1. Your poem is moving. The speaker has done a wonderful job of sharing a story, a viewpoint that covers a lifetime. Nice writing.

  2. Bobbie Troy says:

    Wow. Very powerful, Thomas.

  3. Thomas Locicero says:

    Pam, thank you so much.

Latest Podcast Episode
vox poetica archives