Three Poems

Method Acting

Fourteen years old and desperate, I knew
the unpredictable rage could not continue.
When my father came storming into the kitchen,
the butcher knife was made into a ready prop
for my shaking grasp.  Method acting.

In this tense moment, all would be decided.
Would he dare to strike his unstable son?
Screaming, crazy out of control, I had
to sell I would stab him.  He had to feel
the blade deep in his belly.  Method acting.

Would my father's gut realize the incongruity,
the violence he'd created apart from my character?
With eyes like a cornered wildcat
I prayed him out of the room,
prayed the sharp edges bloodless.  Method acting.

I fled through the empty space the knife had carved,
out the house "Never to return!"
Nowhere to go, I hid on banks overlooking water.
Nowhere to go, come midnight my return, quietly
re-entering wearing a cautious peace.  Method acting.

Some broken part of me learned when to stand firm,
when to run, when to negotiate for peace,
when acting is not really acting - but a method,
and when the sublime moment has fleeting opportunity,
just enough time to open a door and walk through.

It Wasn't About Money

When I went off to college,
I only came home when the dorm closed.
My father developed a self-conscious ritual
when I was leaving to return to university.
He would extend a monetary bill in my direction,
maybe it was a $5 bill, or later a 10, I can't remember.
He wasn't flush, and I didn't want his money.
Sometimes he'd say, "This is for gas," or,
"Maybe you can use this."
Sometimes he just leaned the bill in my direction,
hoping I would accept the gesture.
I always declined.  "I'm good," or "No thanks."
Dejected, my father would put the money
back into his billfold where I thought it belonged.
I didn't want to owe him anything.
Part of me understood that the money was
an apology that I was refusing to allow.
It took till my senior year to accept the offering.
Anyone who could reach out over such
a long period of time deserved acknowledgement.
It was almost like shaking hands.

The Last Pinochle Game

We play cards because this is how
our family forms a circle.
We each sit in our corner of table
like the four cardinal points in nature.

"This is our last game together,"
I say for the fourth time.
I want us to understand
the significance of this moment.

"I wish you'd stop saying that,"
my mother says, fighting her tears.
Arizona seems like the next world.
But I know we have traveled,

each in turn, all round this table.
The discoveries we made -
that we could cleanse the past
with a jovial flick of the wrist

and love the players more than the game -
should not be lost to the luck of the draw.
This moment will not become obscured
by letting the cards cover our chest.

I want us to hold in memory
all the joyful plays we've made
before we put the deck away.
This is how we grant relevance.

—Jim Price, Dresser, WI