Self-Portrait with Dad's Baseball Glove

When I smell the dirt on the oiled leather
I fear that I am leaving everyone to become
A field of wind and sunlight.
I climb a stone wall to look at the ocean
With a bird call stuck in my mind.
The frog, my spirit animal, cocks
Its bulging eyeball at me and its throat
Enlarges as if to laugh, to engulf
All the air since neither of us wishes to live
In a gloomy house of fish scales
And neither of us can perform basic manual tasks
Like re-greasing the axle, repotting the hydrangea
Or knitting a new sweater maybe
Because I dropped the knife on my toes
When I was 8—I was trying to hack
A pumpkin from its vine but the mouse
Darting through the garden startled me
And some spec or mote dove into
The abyss of my insides where I am
The night watchman at the perfume factory
Where the machines never quit humming
Where the stench is overwhelming
Where I have to wear a mask or I’ll black out
I’ll float down the river, get stuck in the reeds
Or torn to shreds in the sudden eddies.
Blood gushed from my big toe but the knife
Didn’t make a clean cut. Something else was wounded
So I put on my gold star badge. I, sheriff
Of the cosmos, must cordon off the attic.
The mold has made it unstable and besides
No one can breathe, even with the oxygen pump
That the doctor left dangling in the branches
Of the oak that shades the eastern side of the yard.
The cabbages look neon in the maturing sun—
There’s time for one last cup of coffee before
The raindrops dive straight at the old glove
And bucket of balls. When the sky clouds over
It’s like Dad’s staring at me again.
I’m not even sleeping. It’s the middle of the day
And he lives 200 miles away—
He just buried his dog in a black mound near the pond
He just opened a box of love letters
He just ran his finger over the lumpy dough
Remembering when we stopped by the big lake
On our way to the museum—the sun had just come up
And I felt like I was holding a hammer
That would break the glossy water into little pieces
That would spin around the lookout station—
I was 10 or 11. I had just discovered hairspray—
I was trying to make my head a hammer
But this is not a memoir—this is not a personal account
Of each burning nanosecond of wakefulness.
I picked up the old mitt just to smell the leather.

Copyright © 2019 Nathan Hoks. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.