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Two poems by Steve Henn

Are You Picking Up What I’m Putting Down?

My GF tells me

her new friend likes to lift

I say I prefer to put down.

Not to criticize your fitness

by disparaging it but to never

actually pick anything up.

For a solid ten seconds I catch myself

worrying – when she inevitably starts

lifting my GF will get both bulkier

and more cardiovascularly refined than me

then I feel bad about critiquing anything

about my GF’s body, even if hypothetical

then I feel bad about feeling bad

and I try not to text her about any of this

because according to all these insightful

poems by women I’m reading

isn’t it just like a man to require reassurance

when pretty much the only problem is

he’s being an idiot? I am how I am

which is soft, like men often expect women

to be. I couldn’t not cry at my last four

poetry readings. My most indelible memories

are not of courage, but terror. Yes, terror.

I’m not exaggerating. Every night until

he turned 11 my youngest son accepted

a kiss on the forehead and a tuck in

responding with “I love you dad!

You’re the best dad in the world!”

to which I would say “You’re the best

kid, buddy!” and we would do that,

back and forth a few times, like

an early cave man and his offspring

back before toxic masculinity

became endemic to the species.

Elegy for my friend April, gone these 20 years

I was in the hospital in Bloomington

when someone came to visit and told me

about the car wreck. All this time

it seems more like you took an epic trip,

as if to Alaska or to hop island to island

in the Mediterranean, killing Cyclops,

avoiding Sirens, making your circuitous

way back to life. If so, Jay would be Penelope

to your Odysseus. He’s had other lovers

but you’re the only one he goes to Webster

to the cemetery to drink a Guinness with

when he’s warding off his suitresses

and feeling forlorn. I remember –

me, you, Jay, Zeb, leaving Seattle

in the painted-up ’ass Supreme, a hybrid

hippie punk death trap painted all over

with the back bumper held up by a rope,

Guided By Voices “To Remake the Young

Flyer” comes over the radio, which was

a thing – the playing of GBV on the radio,

the portent that the song seemed –

that would never happen back home. Back

then, it felt like we were destined for

something bigger than what we got.

Now God doles out the poignancy in

what we thought we’d become, but did not.

But when they told me you had died

while I was smoking in the psych ward

–Zeb came to tell me. It would be Zeb –

when he told me of the accident

I just said “oh” and looked at the floor,

didn’t cry, withdrew into myself

a little more, just like my son did

that morning he was coming out of his

bedroom, four years old, and I had to tell him

his mother was dead, and he looked

down, a blanket on his shoulders,

and turned and slowly closed the door.

Steve Henn wrote Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson 2017) and two previous collections from NYQ Books. He teaches high school in Indiana, and continues to be at work on a collection of personal essays he's calling a "memoir collage."

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