February 29, 2016

Matt W Miller: “Behold, Here is My Mark”

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This week we offer a new poem by Matt W Miller. Miller is the author of Club Icarus (University of North Texas Press), selected by Major Jackson as the 2012 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize winner, and Cameo Diner: Poems (Loom). He has published work previously in Slate, Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Southwest Review, Southeast Review, Florida Review, Third Coast, The Rumpus, Poetry Daily, and other journals. He was the winner of the 2015 River Styx Micro-Beer, Micro-fiction Prize and Iron Horse Review‘s 2015 Trifecta Poetry Prize. He has been awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in Poetry from Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy where he also co-directs the Writers’ Workshop at Exeter.
 
Author’s note:

This poem comes out of another piece I was working on in which I was looking at the misguided actions of fathers, particularly those of my father as well as my own screw-ups as a dad. The father, any parent, wields a godlike power over their children for a long time. That brought me to the Book of Job where it says, “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like he?” Fathers are powerful teachers, but not always of good lessons, we are human and prone to screwing it up, powerless to see the right way at times. So the narrative of this poem builds out of a fight I had with my old man the night before I left the mill town of Lowell for ivy walls of college and football camp. After the fight, I ended up in an emergency room at 3 in the morning with stitches getting sewn into my elbow. Then the next day he told my mom to go pull the car around so he and I could talk. Maybe for the first time ever, my dad cried in front of me and told me how sorry he was he had messed everything up. But the narrator in the poem is petulant and not ready to forgive and, in fact, wants to bleed more, wants the emotional pain to play out physically with a blood red ocular proof. “Oh that I had someone to hear me,” cries Job in his suffering, “Behold, here is my mark, let the almighty answer me, let my accuser write out the charges against me.” The narrator is in genuine physical and emotional pain, but there’s also a touch of the disingenuous as he dramatizes his hurt to some Job-like level. He takes pleasure in his being able to fly the flag of his pain, to show off, perhaps as an indictment against a dad just trying his best, the flamboyant signature of his suffering.

 

Behold, Here is My Mark

 

Because too dumb or too proud to ask
a doctor, trainer, coach, another player,
and enough of both to have put my elbow
through a window during a pissing match
with my dad that had too long bladdered,
I somehow convinced myself I couldn’t hit,
with those forty-seven stitches in my arm,
on the first day of full pads football practice.
So I unscrewed the mirror from the door
of my dorm room and set it on my desk.
The Witch Hazel already poured upon a pair
of old toe nail clippers, I propped my elbow
upon the mirror to spy the rows of sutures.
Then, in the swelter of a ninety-degree day,
as sweat dripped and puddled in its own
reflection, I began to snip and tug, one by
one, the black whiskers from the wound
that would never heal right, would always have
a fat and tender scar and would tear open
every day for every season of that game,
in spite of all gauze, bandages and butterflies,
and bleed and bleed, as if I had wanted it to.

 

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