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04-25-2018


Matthew Guenette

Fathers


They spend trillions, in line at Mickey D's grabbing burgers 
on the fly. They need to work on their baby talk, their goochy goo
but they have other problems. Presidential problems. Problems with crossword puzzles.

Strangling the vacuum cleaner problems. Problems in the bathroom and problems in bed.
They say things no one wants to hear like, "Listen!" Like, "Don't touch that!" 
Like, "Where's the bourbon? Where are my sweatpants?" They replace the thingy on things,

smear lipstick, forget dog food, buy mugs personalized with Calvin taking a piss 
on common sense or "Never Trust an Atom, They Make Up Everything." 
They slip into dreams of unlimited credit but the details slip away.

One out of three is a sitcom. Even more are confused. If you want 
to be a good father, sing. Maybe mine did; I don't remember, 
but when he came back from Vietnam he ended up on a corner

in San Francisco peddling flyers for the resistance. Now he's part Fox News Republican. 
Part drastic measures. An episode, random escapades of extreme distance fathering. 
He's not two gay dads; he's a testimony to Super Bowl ads.

Some stay at home, make you squint at their glaring flaws. America awash 
in fathers who make their mothers and husbands and wives and girlfriends cry, 
a strange centrifugal force, when they disconnect

from what they think or want, they flood themselves with guilt. From a window 
in my memory I still see the scene, sepia-toned, my father with a suitcase 
in each hand, my father in a jacket in a tie, my father leaving. I was four. . . .

They are an emotional performance, a myth. They spread the gospel 
sometimes of Jesus, sometimes of huddling together nervously at the cliff's edge. 
They are data points that rise and fall with mortgage rates. Data points that scatter

like insane plots. They have names like Tom or Stan or Michelle. 
I wasn't raised by my father, and it surprises J still that I don't resent him for it. How can I? 
We too have kids. We know how brutal it is. . . .

When my son was 2, I went to the gas station for emergency milk 
then filled up the tank and thought-because I was exhausted, 
because I was out of my fathering mind-I could drive 300 hundred miles right then.

Point the car north, floor it into Lake Superior and never come back. 
Another tank I could even drive to the moon. My father thought that too. 
It's why I'm able to love him.

Adjustable Beds


We're in hospital beds on an empty stage, 
my bare feet sticking out from the covers, 
my mother (dead now 10 years) 
in the next bed over (sitting upright 
in her adjustable bed), dressed like a nurse, 
an IV infusing her with a silvery light. 
When the curtain rises, it's not on an audience 
or an empty auditorium but the cosmos itself. 
A deep space of stars, swirling galaxies. 
My mother smiles. She has this look. 
"See?" she says. "I told you." 


A Late-Night Conversation with My Infant Son 
in a Convenience Store Parking Lot


And my son was like, dad, dad, you're distracted. 
Bedtime at best is a flimsy referent. An abstraction 
no more provable than God.... It's less a specific 
designation and more a knob-&-tube operation....

So I said, okay, sure, but still...How did parents 
survive before clocks? Did kids, no matter how 
overtired and cranky, just stay up till whenever? Is 
bedtime time itself chained to the meat of things? 
How far can this metaphor go?

And my son was like, dad, dad, a clock is nothing. 
All it does is administer your thoughts. For a cranky 
child, time is a roof that leaks. Rain is a clue....

So I said, sure, maybe, maybe. But what if the cranky 
child is the clock? An artery pumping from some 
supreme bedtime as proof of the divine? And while 
we're here...What's up with all those tears? Are they 
not for want of sleep? And isn't sleep the want of 
death? And death the want of life?

By then my son's head had rolled toward the 
window. He might have been dreaming already. I 
quietly opened the door and slipped into the 
convenience store. A man in front of me was 
buying condoms with exact change....

What I wanted were those awful powdered mini- 
doughnuts. I planned to pop two in my mouth like 
aspirin, right there at the register. 

            -from VasectomaniaAkron Poetry Series (2017), selected by POW Associate Editor Amie Whittemore

BIO: Matthew Guenette received an MFA from Southern Illinois University. He is the author of three poetry collections: Vsectomania (Akron Poetry Series, 2017), American Busboy (University of Akron Press, 2011) and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008) as well as a chapbook, Civil Disobedience (Rabbit Catastrophe Press, 2017). Recent work has appeared in Forklift: Ohio, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sou'wester, Southern Indiana Review, and TYPO. He lives in Madison, WI, and teaches composition and creative writing at Madison College. 

PROMPT: ... -by Associate Editor Amie Whittemore

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