(p.33) “Lesson,” Forrest Hamer
It was 1963 or 4, summer,
and my father was driving our family
from Ft. Hood to North Carolina in our 56 Buick.
We’d been hearing about Klan attacks, and we knew
Mississippi to be more dangerous than usual.
Dark lay hanging from trees the way moss did,
and when it moaned light against the windows
that night, my father pulled off the road to sleep.
that usually woke me from rest afraid of monsters
kept my father awake that night, too,
and I lay in the quiet noticing him listen, learning
that he might not be able always to protect us
from everything and the creatures besides;
perhaps not even from the fury suddenly loud
through my body about this trip from Texas
to settle us home before he would go away
to a place no place in the world
he named Viet Nam. A boy needs a father
with him, I kept thinking, fixed against noise
from the dark.
This poem has a strong, confident, brave rhythm—even though it’s talking about a time when he was very afraid. What makes that strong, definite rhythm? Maybe the straightforward sentence structure—subject-verb-object. Maybe that there are no extra, fanciful, or overly emotional words. I think there’s more to it than that, something just in the pace the words come out, one after the other, so calmly and so sure, but in any case, the combination of confident rhythm and the fear of KKK attack and the images of dark moss hanging from the trees and seeing his father’s wary face, echoes what is being said about how fathers stand on guard, giving a sense of safety even when they feel unsafe. I admire the insight the boy in the poem is learning about what it means to be a father, and the necessity of being there to be a father. And I admire the righteous anger of that boy at the injustice that both makes the world unsafe and takes fathers away.