Gave Us His Heart

He was the version of the young white male poet I met too much of in my early college years, whiskey at the bar where he is surrounded by admirers, always sure of himself.

“Oh, so you do that lyric nature stuff,” he says, and it sounds dismissive, as if the only type of poetry that matters is the kind that talks about cities, occasionally drops the F-bomb, and rails against “the man,” even if he is that man, privileged and certain of his place in the world.

There’s a place for that in poetry I think, and he is certainly talented, but it is not all there is, and I still weep over poetry of a woman’s hands lightly on a man’s shoulders because she wants him to stay, poetry of a father heating a house, those communal and singular beauties of motherhood, or the lines of geese flying overhead in Mary Oliver’s observant world. I do not mind the “small” voices, think of the thousand different ways we are speaking the world and how I want to hear all of them.

It has been years since our chance few encounters. But, “oh, so you do that lyric nature stuff”–I remember that. No, I think. I do science stuff. And nature stuff. Woman stuff. And anger stuff, death stuff, careful student of the world stuff. How I am okay with speaking only my piece of it.

What did you love? What did you lose? What, at last, did you risk? I wanted to ask him all these things when I read his elegant lines, his carefree syllabics that smacked more of wordplay than substance. I wanted to see the bright heat of him in his lines but didn’t.

And so I can’t recall any of them from memory though I can still recall those of an earnest boy’s in 2000, when I am barely twenty. Those toothbrushes lined up on his counter, those “knuckle-stuck white flags” waving a kind of surrender as he stares at his own face in the mirror.

I do not think the boy ever publishes, or, if he does, not enough, though 20 years later I still sometimes Google his name and hope to be surprised. I remember the way the boy read it aloud in class as compared with the way, his whisky firmly in hand, this man read his in the bar and wanted us to be pleased.

The way, when I watched him read, I thought instead about that boy’s face in a cheerless Mankato classroom, the way the boy took, at first, a breath.

Then gave us his heart.