The first one tells fart jokes.
The second refused to vote for Hillary.
“I just couldn’t,” he says. “Too dirty.”
The third brought a gun to a spat with his wife
and now visits his kids supervised.
The fourth hates his parents still, over four decades in.
The fifth – well. The fifth moved his folks
into a condo down the road so his girls could grow up with them close.
The fifth leads the pack for several long laps.
The sixth – or maybe seventh – mansplains the origins of mansplaining.
The eighth – or maybe ninth – a white guy who dates only white women.
The tenth, still married. The divorce is almost final. Almost.
The teens get jumbled. It’s hard to keep track.
The programmer an hour in
blushes when he admits he loves poetry and once came alive on stage.
The IT guy started a new job today
and also, it’s his 50th birthday.
When the slice of bread pudding appears, candlelit, he laughs in surprise
Remember the fifth? He flies to Vegas then San Diego.
He offers an extra ticket.
The schedule never aligns. It never will.
His voice catches when he says goodbye.
The twentieth has a record.
40 days in the clink.
He says his proudest thing
is that his son
has never seen him take a drink.
The twenty-third calls the mountains his church.
The twenty-fourth, he finds the next question to ask
inside the answer to the first.
I fall in love a little every time.
Even with the one so anxious he stutters
only three syllables at a stretch then goes mum.
He showed up. He tries.
Every one a brother.
A beating heart, a map of scars.
Fart jokes, I chuckle.
Mansplaining, I spar.
The one who curses his parents shares the breach of faith no child should bear.
I sit with the boy still aching for atonement.
I stop bothering with the question “What are you looking for?”
The only answer is this
Listen. I will hold you now. Exactly you.
This is the promise I make
as you work yourself up to revealing
one corner of the half secret
invisible ink on onion skin
tucked in behind the script.
And this, the prayer:
That you will know yourself boundless.
That you will know you are loved.
That whether or not you find
what you think you want,
you will feed your heart’s hunger
on what we plant
Image: Hanna Barczyk for NPR