christopher white is a poet from akron, ohio. his poem "song
for the night crawler," won the 2002 sam ella dukes memorial
poetry prize and the zora m. ledinko memorial poetry scholarship,
both from the english dept. at the university of akron.
Portrait of a Father as a Young Man
I'm a young man with young children,
Which means I have the nerves of an old man.
Anyone who knows anything
About children knows at least this about them:
They will split your ends sometimes.
There are moments when you forget to breathe--
Consider parenting as a form of walking apnea,
A condition not unlike narcolepsy.
Sometimes I like to smoke
Because it's the only time I have
To exhale. The Family Circle and
Mini-van crowd have got it all wrong--
When you have children is not the time
To stop smoking--
It is, in fact, the time to start.
I set the tobacco timer
With a spurt of sulfur,
And pull the end closer
With every inward breath,
Letting the smoke unfurl
Like a black flag.
Out here, on the porch,
My children safe
From these wicked unravelings,
My own twisted versions of make believe,
I long for a sort of Montessori school
To send your children at bedtime,
Where they give them pills
To give them headaches,
Then unleash an army of toddlers against them.
Don't let them fool you--
Children are only as unruly
As they are unholy,
Little startlers of pets and old people.
You don't have to read Adler or Freud
To understand them,
Just watch Children of the Corn,
The Omen, or Lord of the Flies.
Yes, children will inherit the earth,
Over our dead bodies.
It's so dark and quiet here tonight,
Even though the stereo's up on 24-
And I'm lying here naked, alone on the love-seat,
The T.V. on mute and crowding the room
With its warmth, listening to Billy Joel
I just jumped up and put my pants on,
Thinking you might be at the door with company.
Mrs. Greene You've Got a Lovely Paddle
--for Renee Greene, Akron City Council Member
It's time to make a truce with you, Renee Greene-
Who had us write, three hundred and nine times,
Because our room number was 309:
When in the halls, walk without talking, walk on the stairs,
And keep hands, feet, and other objects to one's self-
Who, long before your green campaign signs
Lined manicured lawns on the West Side,
Supported mandatory minimums:
Three swats, the state maximum, for everything,
From forgotten math homework to pencil-fighting-
Who was also my sister's fifth grade teacher,
And my brother's, and my other sister's-
Four hardheaded street rats from the East Side,
Off and on for a decade-belligerent, all of us-
And each in unpredictable ways.
By the time I came into your class,
I'm sure you'd had enough.
And I'm sure you hated me most of all,
Who won the spelling bee, yet brought flour to school
And said it was cocaine.
Though our differences were as deep as our culture
Of divided schools and divided skin-
Though I wrote you articulate letters
Damning you, and left a witch's picture on your desk,
With a caption of your favorite teacherly phrases-
I knew, the first time you made me touch my toes,
My rear in the air to receive three whacks
From your heavy-handed wooden paddle-
That one day I'd tell the world about it,
And that one day I'd marry a Black Woman.