What Kind of Man Are You?
After You Get Up From the Pew
In the Woods
It's a wonder that I'm in this world at all
—Gillian Welch, “No One Knows My Name”
You head over to the red pickup,
follow the river into the village,
follow the traffic up Main Street
to the Thruway, and an hour later
as you merge onto the Cross County,
the first question reaches you:
What kind of man are you? You
who’s taken his foot off the gas
and cruise controlled the last 60 miles
in the left lane, what is that all about?
arrogance? foolishness? something else?
You don’t know, do you?
but by then you’re on the Hutch
and your tongue finds the smooth lump
on the roof of your mouth, a breathless
reminder of what this long drive across
a relief map of your life is all about:
What kind of husband have I been?
What kind of father? teacher? writer?
though you know in the next breathless
breath that’s for someone else to decide.
So it’s at the Whitestone, looking right
at Rikers Island, left across Little Neck Bay
to Kings Point, right there between hell
and heaven, when you find your voice
and say out loud Tell me about your faith …
but all you can do is recite a line you wrote
the other day about some “beautiful and awful
harmony,” though you don’t know—or can’t say—
what that means about faith. So you press on
another boat, another current, to the L.I.E.,
where it seems there’s no reason left to lie
to yourself amid the endless congestion
in Queens, past the chemicalized lawntowns
where you grew up, safe and soundless,
the place you had to leave to save your life,
to find love, now nearly 60 years in the rearview
mirror, all those children, grandchildren,
and Hampton Bays ahead, where you cross
the causeway over sparkling Shinnecock Bay,
and pull into the Ponquogue Beach parking lot,
wander over the dunes, through quivering
sea grass, and flop down on the blanket
you carried from the truck, your book laid face
down, fingers raking and raking through sand,
nothing to do but take off your shirt, sun
on your shoulders, and gaze out on the beautiful
and awful ocean, knowing you’re finally finished
asking questions to which you have no answers.
–SL, New Paltz, NY, July 2022