Two Poems by Kip Zegers: “The Ride in” and “Another Thing My Father Did.”

Poems of war, violence, tenderness.

“fear’s big eyes behind glass …”

the ride in

Down from the Bronx to clotted Dyckman,

then south reading Emerson on “The Poet”

to Park Avenue, under the grim tracks,

east on 132 into Harlem rebuilt or refaced,

white guy waving Wall Street Journal flags a cab.

The ride in. At 5th & 129th, I blink and July,

1967, is outside: traffic blocked and stalled

as Newark riots press Harlem with rumor.

See a young man, just left work, watching

wipers sweep hydrant spray, kids at play

taunting traffic, fear’s big eyes behind glass,

drivers trapped. The sky sags low and yellow,

the avenue a tunnel as bodies of buildings

lean in, their foreheads seem to touch.

On one corner men with chains and chunks

of lumber. The other side, 10 cops in a van.

It is chance not miracle things do not get worse.

And in his room around the corner dining

on franks ‘n beans, the young man thinks,

“Langston Hughes once lived a block away,”

which was fact, solid in the uncertain air.

Once, in war, a hole in earth burst open,

of the three men there, George Oppen,

gone teacher and poet, was blooded, but

between him and death were two men.

He lived and buried his dog-tags, H

for Hebrew, at the fox-hole he crawled up from

but never left: a place cannot explain itself.

-

Survival was chance, not miracle. Back in college

Father Bittenz, S.J., taught us miracles,

Our Lady of Fatima, Father had a book

he’d made a list of cases, “If even one is true

it’s ALL true.” Was that the silver bullet

of an old man’s hunger for surety, and relief?

These layers under the topsoil of time.

I’m back. I’m looking out. Riding in.

-

We cross 116th St. A student never forgotten

lived near here. With her grandmother,

was all she had in the world. Years after,

met on the street, she was hurried,

no time to see if now had become enough.

98th Street. Central Park shining as if all

the doormen of all the great buildings

had joined to polish it for use. Walking now,

east on 98th, reading, a little girl emerges

from a polished door held open, and reading,

passes beneath a canopy, and reading,

enters a black car. It’s her ride in.

-

I rode with Mr. Emerson, father of poets,

who said, You can. You have already arrived

in place. He might have meant the ride in,

the swirl widening within it, like an eddy

in time. Once I saw, from a bridge on Bronx River,

a circling in the current, a leaf drawn in,

a scrap of paper spun away, an eddy peopled

with pieces from places upstream.

-

Another Thing My Father Did

-1-

In the father’s story, war whispered

“you own nothing but these tin, neck-worn tags.”

From Okinawa, he placed his lost

address like a prayer in daily letters

home. His son found them there, after.

When the father came home from the war

and his son was almost 3, the father

would have held back, waiting, to see.

When the father came home from the war

his son was confused — who? — three

in the house? Once, when they wrestled,

the boy struck out, the father doubled over,

the son closed his eyes.

-2-

In the son’s story war is a silent man

reading, peering out at Victory at Sea

on the new TV, score by Richard Rogers,

destroyers plow the South Pacific, and

each week, Navy wins.

The father who’d come home from the war

took them to swim. At Touhy Avenue beach,

the lake lay flat, empty of swimmers, icy under

a burning sky. The father said, “Prairie winds

send our lake’s warm water all the way

to Michigan.” The boy, at four, would not try

a toe. Timid son. Long after, the son holds

a photo he’s found: the father, still gaunt, pale,

has his arm around his son;

they are keeping an eye on that lake.

— after Li Young Lee

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Kip Zegers’s book, The Pond in Room 318, was published by Dos Madres, and he has written about poetry and and about speaking truth to power for The English Journal.