Your father must have held you up beneath the arms
to see your grandfather's body. What you saw
you don't remember, just a memory of yourself
seeing and the feeling of hanging in his hands.
Maybe he believed the only answer was to see,
and raised you up as if to say: Look—nothing
is there. Sadness then was only a lesson to recite
in the heart, wanting earnestly to please, attentive
to the soberness that buttoned a white dress shirt,
snugged a dark tie against your Adam's apple.
Rushing homeward in the dim back seat—anywhere
you might have stopped on the road that night:
those familiar furrows of dust when you got out
to pee in the gloom of the Central Valley, your
figure hidden in the shade of vines while the stars
above the highway churned. Half of everyone you
would ever love waiting back in the car as the engine
cooled, their voices eased beneath the whirr of crickets.
Forty years past. What lessons learned? Few, or none—
mainly the force of life behind now, raising you up.
Mark Turpin is a carpenter. Sarabande Books will publish his first full-length collection, Hammer, in June, 2003. His poems have appeared in the The Paris Review, The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares and elsewhere. In 1997 he received a Whiting Award, and this Labor Day 2002 his poem "The Box" was read for the occasion on The Lehrer News Hour.