The boy was seven or eight, pale, wearing a baseball cap, and he was with his father on the deck of a ferry. The poet was listening in, as poets do. The boy was making a nuisance of himself, desperate for attention, and suddenly the man leant in close to his son and whispered some words into his small soft ear. The boy was crushed like a coke can under his boot. The father walked off with the look of disgust still fading on his face, and the boy was left alone with his humiliation. The poet felt terrible, helpless, dangling from the hook of the boy’s pain. He tried to catch the boy’s eye and gave him a look that said ‘it’s tough being small, isn’t it?’ and ‘what a father, eh?’, wanting to offer him this at least, but instead the boy sneered at him and then spat into the sea.
I think the poem was by C. K. Williams, and I flick through his Collected in search of it, letting my eyes float over all that black and white confusion and hurt and joy. I even try reading the first lines index – ‘sometimes I almost go for hours without crying’, and ‘Once, in Rotterdam, a whore once, in a bar, a sailor’s bar, a hooker bar, opened up her legs’… I can’t find it, and I start to wonder if maybe the poet was actually Sharon Olds, and maybe it was the boy’s mother, not his father, and maybe the boy didn’t spit into the water at all. The only thing I can be sure of after all is the boy’s hurt, as I hold a replica of it deep inside like a needle through my heart.
An old prose poem of mine from the ‘new poetry collection’ folder that has languished on my computer for years now…