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."