I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men.
           Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,

I worked alone, in the dark, deep in
           the bilges of frigates. For two months,
I hooked a torch to an oxygen tank with a green line and pulled a red

hose through bulkheads to gas. The brass tool
           hissed like an ostrich
when it fed on metal. That day, my flame cut

permanent deck fittings; the loops fell like bright oranges;
           I ripened the rusty metal. I knew
that this was a job to baby-sit me, a job they gave to bad burners,

beginners playing with their tools: who pretended their brass torches
           were trumpets, and that gulls in the bay were tables
of distracted diners. When my father was a boy, his father loaded him

and his siblings in the car and dropped them off downtown
           so my grandfather could get drunk and my
grandmother could pretend he wasn’t drinking again. When I was a boy,

I enjoyed watching my father dig; with dirt between his palms, he spun
           the shovel before he dug. As I grew, I tried
to stay away from work, even when he paid me. I stayed away from him too.

I never understood how he could work around so much grass. For him,
           life was work. For him, everything was hard. For me,
it was not hard. He stalked my mother a long time after their divorce.

He never understood she was not sod to be laid, or a sprinkler to be
           attached to a pvc pipe seven inches in the ground.
That pregnant at fifteen was too soon. Neither of us is the most

mechanical of men, yet we still pride ourselves on how we fashion our tools.
           I wake up shivering and crying in an empty bed,
 the afternoon light entering and leaving an empty bottle of wine near

an emptier glass—or roll over and try, and fail, to remember a woman's
           name, which never really gets old, just uncouth
to say so, and feel fixed. To feel fixed is to feel a mechanical spirit, to feel love,

or at least to play at paste for an evening, to make believe she will never leave me,
           as life almost did when I cut the green hose, and was
lonely and shaking that day on the deck of the destroyer, looking into the

green water, and wondered what would be written on my tomb:
           "Killed by oxygen was this unmechanical man."
In that moment close to death, I only wanted my own lungs. I didn’t regret

returning home and sleeping on my father’s couch. And that summer, I returned
           to each of the women of my past and bedded
them all, trying to reheat our want. I don't regret that– drinking wine

and making love, or writing poems and making love, of wanting to stay
           but nonetheless leaving. I don't regret returning
with Said and Spivak, with Weil and Augustine, of telling my father

"All sins are an attempt to fill voids," or rebuilding my grandfather's
           house with Hopkins in my head
as I ripped the tar and shingles off the old roof with a shovel.

And I am not mad for being the second favorite son,
           Esau turned inside out. Can't regret saying
that summer, I was, in fact, already, a bigger and better man

than my father because I understood more. I didn't mind he
           favored my younger brother, who knew less
than him. I favored my brother's way of living, of skating

in the park and smoking weed while I studied and wondered for us all.
           How ridiculous I was that summer for us all;
for not attempting to rebuild any of his love that summer, at all.

From Hustle (Sarabande Books, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by David Tomas Martinez. Used with the permission of the poet.

I hear the sound of the sprinkler outside, not the soft kind we used to run through
but the hard kind that whips in one direction then cranks back and starts again.

Last night we planned to find the white argument of the Milky Way 
but we are twenty years too late. Last night I cut the last stargazer 
lily to wear in my hair. 

This morning, the hardest geography quiz I’ve ever taken: how does one carry
oneself from mountain to lake to desert without leaving anything behind?

Perhaps I ought to have worked harder. 
Perhaps I could have paid more attention.
A mountain I didn’t climb. Music I yearned for but could not achieve.

I travel without maps, free-style my scripture, pretend the sky is an adequate
representation of my spiritual beliefs. 

The sprinkler switches off. The grass will be wet. 
I haven’t even gotten to page 2 of my life and I’m probably more than halfway through,
who knows what kind of creature I will become.

Copyright © 2019 by Kazim Ali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.