american manhood :: robert wrigley

In the dull ache that is midnight for a boy
his age, I heard the sound of him first:
hiss of the pistol-grip hose from the garden
and the clatter a watery arc makes
coming down silver under streetlights,
on the day-warmed pavement of the road.
And though I muttered at first
to be wakened, I stand now in the window
upstairs, naked and alert, the cool breeze
sweet with the blossoms of locusts.

My wife murmurs, stirs. She is a slope of white
in the bedclothes, dunes of softness
below the light from the window
and the single blind eye of the clock.
“It’s just Travis,” I say, hoping
she’ll lapse again into sleep.

I hope she’ll sleep because he is a boy,
fourteen, soft yet himself, unwhiskered.
He believes he is the only one
awake, the only one alive in a world
of cruel nights and unbearable silence.
His parents snore, their house is dark.
He is crouched on the curb
in just his pajama bottoms, barefoot,
swirling figure eights into the air trafficked
only by insects and the fluttering, hunting bats.

Tonight he speaks a language I believe
I must have known, in the time before, those years
when a boy’s body imagines the world, the heartbeat
rhythm of water on the road, the riches
coined by streetlights, the smell of the night
that is everything at once, alterable
and contained—all that keeps him awake
long after I’ve gone back to bed.

But before sleep comes, I listen, until the noise
he makes is my own even breathing, and I remember how
the old rented guitar I learned on smelled of music,
how the young married woman across the street
robbed me of the power of speech,
and how I wandered one night the alleys
of the town I grew up in, a brick in my hand,
breaking thermometers, taillights, and windows,
and went home and laughed aloud and wept.