my father

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block
Second Place, December 2021
Judged by Terence Culleton

i remember him
so pitiful
his heart would go crazy
and whole oak tables
would shake in his grip

and i wondered
what force
drove the small wheel
of this man’s being
i wanted it all to stop

his very heart
to stop
because the shaking
wouldn’t stop
until he stopped

because everything he held
shook fiercely
and i thought there was nothing
he held more tightly
than me

Frost said poems are about griefs, not grievances, and this poem, though to a degree accusatory, rises out of the narrow channels of binary thinking to understand the richness of every human relationship, no matter how fraught (and inevitably so) with error, even abuse. All of this is achieved by the deployment of that simple but multi-dimensional verb, “held,” which in context connotes both affectionate embrace and coercion. The poem understands that the father not only inflicted himself, his “crazy”ness, on others, but also into them, and since “there was nothing/ he held more tightly/than me,” the poet’s ominous desire for the father’s “very heart” to stop stemmed as much from an instinct for self-preservation—literal, but also moral—as from anything else. To embody such a multi-valenced understanding of such a painful relationship in so few words is remarkable. --Terence Culleton