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Nathaniel


ISSUE:  Spring 2006

 
Whatever it was
    that made the Reverend
        Barker stoop that way,

it meant no matter
    how much he screamed
        at my friend Nathaniel

for being late, for not
    raking the leaves,
        or for raking the goddamned

leaves the wrong Goddamned way
    (his huge, gin-blossomed jowls
        quivering with rage,

his great whale-eyes
    lost in the gray
        depths of his brow),

he could only ever scowl
    at the tops of his wingtip shoes
        or at the cuffs of the black wool suit

he always seemed to be wearing
    when he’d thunder into the yard,
        or down the stairs,

or through the little speaker
    of some payphone
        we huddled around, God

damnit Nathaniel, I told you,
    I told you, Nathaniel, Goddamnit!

        his fury repeating itself

so precisely it became a joke
    we hollered through the halls,
        changing my friend’s name

to Goddamnit Nathaniel, as in
    Where the hell’s Goddamnit Nathaniel?
        I told you, Goddamnit, to get me a Coke!


which was stupid but funny at fourteen,
    and still just as stupidly funny at nineteen,
        when we’d yell across a bonfire,

Don’t bogart that joint, Goddamnit
    Nathaniel. Haven’t I told you
        to pass the fucking bong when you’re through?


which is still funny to me even now—
    even though I look back and see,
        as I could not have seen then,

that the Reverend Barker
    only stooped that way
        because he was dying,

because cancer was eating his liver,
    and because with each day it became
        both more urgent and more unlikely

that he would ever manage to say
    whatever it was he meant
        when he’d sit at the kitchen table,

or grip the black phone,
    or stand in the darkened driveway
        after we’d all gone home,

staring at the ground and saying nothing
    to his sweet, beloved boy
        but Goddamnit

Nathaniel, listen to me.
    Listen Goddamnit.
        Goddamnit Nathaniel, now listen.

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