Published on Academy of American Poets (


Came home and found my typewriter
case a little crushed it’s my fault
probably for leaving it looking like
a stepping stone for someone not tall
enough to climb onto the toy chest
but who very much likes to clamber
up there my father built the toy chest
for me and now the result is my comma
key sticks won’t fly up to make its mark
so no more clauses of that tender
kind or just imagine them there or figure
out how to use a semicolon or type the word
comma when I need one lots of things
are called commas not just punctuation
a certain butterfly a bacillus responsible for cholera
the chest’s nails are slowly withdrawing I notice
pulling themselves out in the invisible
hammerclaw of time or else the wood itself’s
ejecting them feeling maybe hey it’s been long
enough let me just be planks again or it could
be the climbing itself did I also climb
and all that climbing’s worked
against those nails a little each time after
my father held one in his hand one in his
mouth and with his hammer made a box


Copyright © 2021 by Miller Oberman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’m working on a book of poems about fatherhood, transness, and inherited trauma, and the event described in this poem offered a perfect stepping stone for me to think about old things—typewriters, toy chests, punctuation—alongside new things—my own new fatherhood, my curious toddler. I started out thinking the poem would be comical, but it wound up more of a consideration of the ways in which we can’t know what will happen to the things we make—toy chests, children, poems—and my grief that my father did not live long enough to see his grandchild playing on the chest he made for me, or the father I’ve become.”
Miller Oberman


Miller Oberman

Miller Oberman is the author of The Unstill Ones (Princeton University Press, 2017). He teaches writing at Eugene Lang College and lives with his family in Queens, New York.

Date Published: 2021-06-22

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