He knows I don’t know much about them,
these cows that rush the fence,
ram each other out of the way
as we approach in the tractor,
loader full of corn husks to leave on the ground.
My father-in-law, something of a mother cow
in human form to this herd—
manifestation of sustenance, hay and millet—
drives, works gears, while I sit hunched in the cab,
my two children balanced in my lap.
He thinks I’m a city boy, and maybe I am,
feels I should lead my family, take them to church.
He doesn’t like that I’ve been a stay-at-home dad,
something he sees as feminine work,
a role meant for his daughter.
We draw nearer the pasture,
silent in such weight.
He asks me to open the gate.
At the She-Wolf
Neither of you were quite sure what to think
when you saw the two children—naked, bronze—
suckling a bronze wolf off Broad Street, downtown Rome.
Beside your mother and me, you approached—raised eyebrows,
muffled laughter—suspicion, maybe, that this statue was some joke.
Surely others had seen it there before, approved its presence—
teats stark, sharp as blades, human mouths around them,
boys’ parts we’ve colloquially taught you were private
on full display for passing traffic.
The truth is I’ve never known what runs through your minds,
wilder than mine: Though this art would not pass
in your elementary schools, might lead to calls home
should you create something similar, surely you understand.
The truth is I remember you.
Though you stood by be, asking if you could touch the wolf,
whether you could climb it, the truth is I remember you both—
your traumatic entries into this world, emergency deliveries,
your trembling mother, wires and monitors, intravenous order,
your trouble breastfeeding at first for all this—
then the oneness, warm-blooded and placental,
when you finally sensed her, your mother,
fierce for you as a wolf.
My children, born in the watersheds
of the Etowah and Chattahoochee—
though I have fed you from bottles—
whether formula I mixed, or your mother’s milk
pumped and kept in the fridge, warmed and dripped
on my wrist to test the heat—I have no illusions
of what I’ve done. This isn’t to say it has been unimportant.
But that story of vulnerability, of nakedness
in the wilderness along the lower Tiber,
of how she found you both, drew you near her body
as the space that separated your bodies disappeared—
that story is yours and hers, told in colostrum and blood,
a story I can only know through myth,
a fable tangled as riverbank weeds,
like the one we stood before last summer,
wrapped by roads, swathed in car exhaust,
the she-wolf as sustenance and salvation,
the suggestion of some new foundation.
My Daughter Refuses to Smile
It’s most often a man who demands it
when we’re out, as it was in the grocery store aisle
one routine afternoon after I’d picked her up from school,
hauled her along on some errands.
Nothing at all wrong—a pleasant enough day,
low seventies, early spring.
But nothing, either, particularly warranting a smile,
except another day for life, breath,
thankfulness, joy, and all the rest,
though for that one might well smile forever.
I certainly don’t recall smiling
as I scanned the stock of granola bars,
grabbed a box on sale, tossed it in the buggy
beside my daughter. Pretty little girl,
the stranger said, passing by.
Wish she’d smile, though.
She didn’t, of course, and if anything
her expression shifted
from one fully fitting minding one’s own business
at a Kroger on a weekday afternoon,
to more of a glare—
her preschool perfection of an eat-shit-and-die stare—
and the only one left smiling was me.