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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


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