Carl the sexton always sighed Ohaah, no matter what 
you said. Smiling, he would shove his pushbroom down 
the church’s marble corridors where kindergarten hid. 

Each morning I left home with Dad in search of church 
eight blocks away. His dry hand would swallow mine; 
when he swept our arms ahead my feet would skim 
through weeds between the humpled sidewalks. 

We crossed streets between the corners, dodged trolleys, 
honking trucks. Taxi drivers leaned from windows, 
yelled Watch out, Father! when they saw his collar. 

On one block he’d hoist me to the lip of a five-foot wall. 
I’d teeter down its soot-stained teeth, eluding 
thorns, uneven stones, and lunging dogs. 

Sometimes he’d pause along our way, tell me close 
my eyes and count to ten (1 always stopped at three.) 
When I opened them he’d vanished- then leap 
grinning from behind a tree. 

We always reached the church before my school began. 
Dad left me with the sexton, whistled down the hall 
to work. Ohaah, Carl smiled and shook his head 
as wide-eyed I’d recall the perils I’d survived. 
Ohaah was all he said.
He yearned for a model son and so he hacked me 
with the fury he’d unsheathed to carve the image of himself. 

What closer kinship could there be than that of block 
and chip, what greater love than whittling from my surface 
knots of feeling he had spent a lifetime slicing from his core? 

Still he couldn’t fathom why I didn’t dance the steps 
that he with desperation taught himself to look so real. 

He grew bewildered reaching for my hand and grasping 
substance unlike his. He feared I lacked the stuff 
to stay afloat if self-doubt swept me from his stage. 

I squeezed back his wooden hand, peered into his eyes, choked 
back tears of rage. I saw a child crouching there inside 
a self-made cage when all I’d ever wanted was just a real dad.
            FAMILY MOBILE
“In child abuse the rule is: every act of cruelty, conscious or 
unconscious, that our parents take, we Interpret 
as an act of love.”                    --Robert Bly 

Only after dropping from its lethal coils, 
did I see my parents were as bound as I 
inside the ruthless swivel of our family mobile. 

Their needs compelled the mobile 
keep its shape, maintain their faith 
that it was carved entirely from love, 
hung the best way we knew how. 

Their own mangled egos made them twist 
above their kids, 
tangled in the same frayed cord 
that strung their cradles 
long before their children’s birth.  

Blind to the mobile’s warped or missing parts, 
they only saw the model of their dreams: gentle, 
joyous, self-aligning, forthright, loving, kind. 
Stoked by work addiction, prescribed pills, 
sheer denial blocked opposing views. 

From his perch at the mobile’s crest 
Dad rained shame and criticism, 
barbed all praise with sarcasm. 
Beside him Mom maneuvered 
errant parts back into line 
with anxious eyes and martyred sighs. 

Father sometimes yanked the strings 
with bullying and rage, blithely lied 
if truth restrained his hand. 
Mother, like a quarter-horse at roping, 
kept the lines around us taut 
with steady tugs of fear and guilt. 

Both folks sprinkled hope of love 
upon conditions which, when met, 
were blown away by nonchalance 
or litanies of how their children’s efforts 
somehow managed to fall short. 

Even In adulthood I was hailed “prodigal son” 
each time I sojourned home, quickly shown 
 the mobile’s spot they’d saved for my return. 

In constant flight from tenderness, 
the mobile burned Its shadows on our walls, 
projecting life as endless contests, 
strangers as competitors, smiles a mask 
behind which lurked rejection or betrayal. 

Countless parents hang these mobiles 
round the world, sing versions 
of my parent’s rationale: 
Reality is ceaseless struggle-- 
only toughened kids survive! 

With reckless good intentions they chant 
these Darwin mantras 
to justify the savage legacy 
of raising kids with holes 
punched through their souls.