Taking a Punch
Near enough to hear the rough language
of men, I watched my father and uncles
string an electric fence between yard and field.
One read the worry on my face,
explained how the shock just pinched
beasts so big, just told them their limits.
When left alone, I threw sticks at it,
then grabbed hold, felt my skin snap, released.
That was before I knew to ask if we really feel
pain differently, when I would tumble from trees
and my brother would swear
it would hurt less if I didn’t cry.
So I didn’t. And later when someone I loved
said he didn’t and never had, I managed
to nod, numb myself until morning
when I learned whiskey’s a lousy anesthesia,
overcame self-pity by imagining soldiers
losing limbs, dying anyway. I would think of them
to keep from laughing during church,
but it really was funny the way the preacher
believed men could help falling for other men
anymore than I could have
stopped from grabbing that fence,
seeing for myself if I were being lied to.
Taking a Punch first appeared in DMQ Review, Spring 2006.