Thomas March is a poet, critic, and teacher who lives in New York City. His poetry column, “Appreciations,” which appears regularly in Lambda Literary Review, promotes new work by offering close readings of poems from recent collections. His work has also appeared in The Believer, Bellevue Literary Review, The Account, The Common Online, Confrontation, The Good Men Project, Pleiades, and RHINO. www.thomasmarch.org twitter: @realThomasMarch
Never the Belt
Never the belt—the belt
too like his own father
whose belt had its own name
that the whiskey gave it—
so never the whiskey
in the house, just the beer
for after the yard work—
but still, “Your ass is grass,
and I’m gonna mow it!”
when it would come to that.
Never the belt—instead
the ping pong paddle, wood
just firm and flexible
enough to sting, not bruise—
never branding the boy
(as he had been) as “boy,”
the name his father had
for whoever it was
tumbling through his vision—
and my padding myself
with wash cloths and even
paperback books (more like
a game than a beating)
until it was the books,
their shape and sound so sharp
there was no pretending.
Then we had to decide
how the next blow would fall—
full forward into farce
or back to the breaking
of paddles—in silence,
until I said, “I am
too old for this” and was.
So were we both too old
and so unlike his own
father, who didn’t live
long enough for wisdom.
And so never the belt
or the paddle, either,
or calling a boy “boy,”
but his own name, only.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
How could my faith ever have been his fault—
and who would ever look to be betrayed,
when love will leaven wariness with hope?
The bonds weren’t necessary, just that bond
that made me see the shining blade as just
a test—of bravery and loyalty—the trust
a son should bear. But who, knowing favor,
when favor hadn’t stopped the rising steel
could credit favor when it only fell
to slice beneath the ropes that held me still?
What was the magic in my lying down
that drew the knife back swiftly to his side?
It’s something—being blessed by willingness—
it’s something. But it doesn’t bear relief.
We earned our wounds those summer afternoons—
tackling each other, jumping, climbing things—
the worst was just a fall as we walked home.
I couldn’t feel, until I saw your face—
the way confusion blossomed into shock
before contracting into cool concern—
the glass embedded deep, behind my knee.
I couldn’t feel the blood until you pressed
your thumb against the inside of my leg
and eased the glass out with your other hand—
then, as the pooling thickness of my blood
diluted in the slickness of your sweat,
you took your t-shirt off and wrapped it tight
around my knee.
And bearing half my weight
you helped me home—and carefully undressed
and dressed the wound again. Maybe you kissed
it once, before you taped the bandage on.
I might have kissed you better at the door.
Or that’s a wish that only memory grants.
The scar is real but disappears—each year
it fades, just as your t-shirt has—and you
would never guess how well it fits me, still
a bloodstained totem of an old taboo.