Poem of the Week | April 05, 2011

This week we are delighted to feature “Homecoming” by Micah Bateman.  The poem is previously unpublished. Micah Bateman grew up in Jacksonville, Texas, and lives with his wife Andrea in Iowa City where he studies and teaches. He can be found elsewhere on the web at Super Arrow, 52nd City, Juked, Night Train, and others.

Author’s Note:

The poem is a blend of fiction and nonfiction. I wanted to write a poem that might encapsulate my feelings on growing up in the American South where masculinity is still a supreme, if threatened, currency. In the poem we have men in leagues of some sort — company men: the prison guard, the soldier, the postman, the coach, the football player. The poem attempts to ask: What does it mean to be in a league of men? It seems to me it can be both generative and dangerous.


My father is a prison guard. Each night

he sleeps justly, right side of the bed,

the man side, holstered revolver

belted over his bedpost. Does my mother

mind? I think about this–and my father’s

gun collection. There is one on the wall

in the living room, pointed at the front door.

A Russian rifle from the Second World War–

the war my grandfather, my mother’s father

was in–stationed mainly in Austria, though

he has pictures of Auschwitz; you’ve seen

these pictures. He didn’t remember the name,

Auschwitz. It was written on the back

of the photograph, dated 1945. But he did

remember the names of towns with water-

fronts where he and his buddies stole the boats

of the moribund Nazi gentry, joyrode yachts on seas

pretending to be rich. He would never see

rich, not really. His house is good but modest.

He was a mailman after the war. But my father–

my father guards criminals, a different brand

of civic duty. He speaks to me about dogpiles,

the thrill of rushing a man against the cold

of a concrete block. He and my brother

played football. All the other prison guards

played football. Everyone, where I’m from,

knows how to rush a man. I was taught

in the eighth grade. Coach Fitz on tackling:

Put the pecker in the gopher hole, me.

This was his explanation of the mechanics

of proper full body contact, which is to say

you start low and accelerate up. There is

a spring in the knees and a release,

a slant pelvic tectonic. To put the pecker

in the gopher hole means you own someone,

someone is yours for the taking. My friends

appropriated the phrase in locker rooms,

you can imagine, as innuendo, sometimes

suggesting sex with girls they had

or hadn’t slept with, sometimes conjuring

a mutual threat of dominance–a call to arms.

Put the pecker in the gopher hole–they played this

locker room game they called football

in which they formed a phalanx and slammed

the smaller boys against their lockers.

Was the victim pecker; the locker, gopher hole?

Or was same-sex penetration just threat

enough in itself? It’s interesting, the mutual

vocabulary between prison and schoolyard–

prison guards talk football all the time.

Each cell is a locker, so to speak, and my father

and his buddy guards are gifted with the same telepathy

as my friends, the same implicit language–

the language necessary to unite without words, to form

a moving phalanx like a flying V, to wall up

when walling up is called for, to dogpile

a prisoner in the corner of his cell when protocol

is telling you to dogpile. There are bees with this power

who protect the hive. My father speaks

of these episodes as a way of showing me

what it is to be in a league of men.

I never played football after the eighth grade,

never cracked into a player like a surgeon

into a sternum, never saw my father beam, beatific,

from the stands, like he did for my brother,

like my brother will do for his new son

in so many short years, like his son will beam

from a deer stand after a true shot through a chest.

My father’s guns are an inheritance I’ll only see

in such photographs, depicting slayings. As it is now,

when I return home for holidays, I navigate the strait

of concrete from the curb, make the steps

to my front door, ring the bell, open arms, stare down

the double barrel of my father’s Russian rifle on the wall,

the anticipation of exuberance thwarted by threat–

like the lonely prisoners caught having sex in their cells

whose genitals are washed with mace, like the prison guards

wishing to tell their sons about it later, later to laugh,

like the son– me– who wishes so dearly to laugh

it’s sick. My nephew’s eyes are so bright I can’t help

but see the burning. My grandfather tells me on Christmas:

Those Austrian days were the best of my life.