by Martin Vest


Reading a book by a respected poet,

I come to a poem that I don’t understand.

It’s one of many, really, but as this one

is particularly famous, I surrender my pride

to the internet and conduct a quick search

from which I learn that the piece

is about the death of the author’s father.


More confused than ever, I return to the book,

wondering how I could miss something so essential.

It’s here somewhere in all these words,

this tangled rosary of stanzas linked by asterisks.

But I could never find Waldo in his red and white world,

the crown among the zigzags in Highlights hidden pictures—

and even now, I concede, I am not clever enough

to find the death of this man’s father in his poem.


As a boy, I was in special education,

pinched into tiny cinder-block rooms that stank

of citric cleanser and earwax.

We studied the mathematics of bananas

and apples, fought with prepositions,

tried our hands at haiku,

converting syllables into one

too many blackbirds, while in other rooms

students turned numbers into music and made

chemicals react in puffs of natural magic.


Monumental! blurbs one writer.

Resonating! raves another. Erudite! Unflinching!

I stare into the page the way one stares into a 3D poster,

waiting for an image to emerge,

but nowhere can I see a dead father.


Frustrated, I lay the volume aside

and begin tidying the room,

anxious to shake off this sense of inadequacy,

as I was once so eager to escape

the syndromes and impediments

and congenital hygienes of my classmates,

when I stared into the night sky

of a workbook—

the constellations, dots I couldn’t connect,

figures I couldn’t grasp,

which existed, I was told,

somewhere above me.



From Rattle #68, Summer 2020.