Poem of the Week | April 05, 2011
Micah Bateman: "Homecoming"
This week we are delighted to feature “Homecoming” by Micah Bateman. The poem is previously unpublished. Micah Bateman grew up in Jacksonville, Texas, and lives with his wife Andrea in Iowa City where he studies and teaches. He can be found elsewhere on the web at Super Arrow, 52nd City, Juked, Night Train, and others.
The poem is a blend of fiction and nonfiction. I wanted to write a poem that might encapsulate my feelings on growing up in the American South where masculinity is still a supreme, if threatened, currency. In the poem we have men in leagues of some sort — company men: the prison guard, the soldier, the postman, the coach, the football player. The poem attempts to ask: What does it mean to be in a league of men? It seems to me it can be both generative and dangerous.
My father is a prison guard. Each night
he sleeps justly, right side of the bed,
the man side, holstered revolver
belted over his bedpost. Does my mother
mind? I think about this–and my father’s
gun collection. There is one on the wall
in the living room, pointed at the front door.
A Russian rifle from the Second World War–
the war my grandfather, my mother’s father
was in–stationed mainly in Austria, though
he has pictures of Auschwitz; you’ve seen
these pictures. He didn’t remember the name,
Auschwitz. It was written on the back
of the photograph, dated 1945. But he did
remember the names of towns with water-
fronts where he and his buddies stole the boats
of the moribund Nazi gentry, joyrode yachts on seas
pretending to be rich. He would never see
rich, not really. His house is good but modest.
He was a mailman after the war. But my father–
my father guards criminals, a different brand
of civic duty. He speaks to me about dogpiles,
the thrill of rushing a man against the cold
of a concrete block. He and my brother
played football. All the other prison guards
played football. Everyone, where I’m from,
knows how to rush a man. I was taught
in the eighth grade. Coach Fitz on tackling:
Put the pecker in the gopher hole, me.
This was his explanation of the mechanics
of proper full body contact, which is to say
you start low and accelerate up. There is
a spring in the knees and a release,
a slant pelvic tectonic. To put the pecker
in the gopher hole means you own someone,
someone is yours for the taking. My friends
appropriated the phrase in locker rooms,
you can imagine, as innuendo, sometimes
suggesting sex with girls they had
or hadn’t slept with, sometimes conjuring
a mutual threat of dominance–a call to arms.
Put the pecker in the gopher hole–they played this
locker room game they called football
in which they formed a phalanx and slammed
the smaller boys against their lockers.
Was the victim pecker; the locker, gopher hole?
Or was same-sex penetration just threat
enough in itself? It’s interesting, the mutual
vocabulary between prison and schoolyard–
prison guards talk football all the time.
Each cell is a locker, so to speak, and my father
and his buddy guards are gifted with the same telepathy
as my friends, the same implicit language–
the language necessary to unite without words, to form
a moving phalanx like a flying V, to wall up
when walling up is called for, to dogpile
a prisoner in the corner of his cell when protocol
is telling you to dogpile. There are bees with this power
who protect the hive. My father speaks
of these episodes as a way of showing me
what it is to be in a league of men.
I never played football after the eighth grade,
never cracked into a player like a surgeon
into a sternum, never saw my father beam, beatific,
from the stands, like he did for my brother,
like my brother will do for his new son
in so many short years, like his son will beam
from a deer stand after a true shot through a chest.
My father’s guns are an inheritance I’ll only see
in such photographs, depicting slayings. As it is now,
when I return home for holidays, I navigate the strait
of concrete from the curb, make the steps
to my front door, ring the bell, open arms, stare down
the double barrel of my father’s Russian rifle on the wall,
the anticipation of exuberance thwarted by threat–
like the lonely prisoners caught having sex in their cells
whose genitals are washed with mace, like the prison guards
wishing to tell their sons about it later, later to laugh,
like the son– me– who wishes so dearly to laugh
it’s sick. My nephew’s eyes are so bright I can’t help
but see the burning. My grandfather tells me on Christmas:
Those Austrian days were the best of my life.
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