We show up, years beyond
the animus, in the places

that managed to keep them
adrift or away from home—

the pubs and hash-‘n’-eggs
counters in other cities

that answered our mothers’
where the hell is he

before we learned and before
where worked itself into why.

Maybe we show up with them,
indulging the now leathery men.

Or maybe we are alone
and they since evaporated.

Either way, we take a stool.
Either our fathers introduce us

or the remnants of their faces
in our own wink to others’ eyes.

Yeah, you’re ______’s kid.
I remember you says a waitress,

a barkeep we’ve never met—
serving us a gratis plate

or pour of something. Somehow
they can recount all the trifles

of distinction in our lives—voices
filling us more than any page

in that thin scrapbook of better
days bound between our ears.

I am often taken by how many of my friends did not have relationships with their fathers, if not never met them at all. There are many psychological and emotional approaches to framing these kinds of rifts, but regardless of how these children think of it, there is always another, or an unexpressed/undocumented, side to the narrative—the details that do not absolve but can humanize the “villains” of these stories.

The form of “Another Way to Understand Our Fathers” is my attempt to physically represent the rupture in a way that still leaves more than one thread that reads as honest. It isn’t strictly multidirectional (as, say, many of Tyehimba Jess’s “double-jointed” poems are), but if you read the whole piece left to right or read the individual wings top to bottom, there is a continuity. Maybe it does not read as clean, contiguous syntax or “make sense” (as the stories absent fathers tell their children never do), but you can see, I hope, an emotional landscape in the columns that is bigger than merely a tale of who abandoned and who was abandoned.

There is a flawed love between parent and child. That may be the only kind of love that can exist between imperfect, fear-sighted, pain-sighted humans. I would say the poem is trying to capture the aesthetic of the sketch of loving—with those inconvenient, inconsistent lines and marks that get painted over in the finished products of our memories.