Say You Love Me
What happened earlier I'm not sure of.
Of course he was drunk, but often he was.
His face looked like a ham on a hook above
meI was pinned to the chair because
he'd hunkered over me with arms like jaws
pried open by the chair arms. "Do you love
me?" he began to sob. "Say you love me!"
I held out. I was probably fifteen.
What had happened? Had my motherhad she
said or done something? Or had he just been
drinking too long after work? "He'll get mean,"
my sister hissed, "just tell him." I brought my knee
up to kick him, but was too scared. Nothing
could have got the words out of me then. Rage
shut me up, yet "DO YOU?" was beginning
to peel, as of live layers of skin, age
from age from age from him until he gazed
through hysteria as a wet baby thing
repeating, "Do you love me? Say you do,"
in baby chokes, only loud, for they came
from a man. There wouldn't be a rescue
from my mother, still at work. The same
choking sobs said, "Love me, love me," and my game
was breaking down because I couldn't do
anything, not escape into my own
refusal, I won't, I won't, not fantasize
a kind, rich father, not fill the narrowed zone,
empty except for confusion until the size
of my fear ballooned as I saw his eyes,
blurred, taureanmy sister screamedunknown,
unknown to me, a voice rose and levelled
off, "I love you," I said. "Say 'I love you,
Dad!'" "I love you, Dad," I whispered, levelled
by defeat into a cardboard image, untrue,
unbending. I was surprised I could move
as I did to get up, but he stayed, burled
onto the chairmy monstrous fearshe screamed,
my sister, "Dad, the phone! Go answer it!"
The phone wasn't ringing, yet he seemed
to move toward it, and I ran. He had a fit
"It's not ringing!but I was at the edge of it
as he collapsed into the chair and blamed
both of us at a distance. No, the phone
was not ringing. There was no world out there,
so there we remained, completely alone.
From Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems, (W.W. Norton and