“Feats of Pain and Daring” by Scott Beal

Scott Beal


Once I got lost alone in the woods
and found my way back. It made me
not new or strong, but wary of woods.
I trudged through shallow swamp and thickets
of prickers and chiggers, through tree dark
stretching all directions, four hungry hours
and no one made me do it the way they make you
chug a beer through a mouthful of tampons,
or get your back daggered into crocodile skin,
or spill over the side of a bark canoe
and swim the quaking mile to shore.
No one spun me with a blindfold and basket
and said, Bear this back to the house of your father
and he’ll pull the ripcord to rev your testicles
and carve you a sharp new Adam’s apple,
no tribe had gathered to cheer as I stumbled
clear of the canopy and back into my prescription
for Clearasil, my graph paper dungeon maps.
This was before I failed to swing back at bullies,
before the summer I failed driver’s ed
and had to take a makeup course at Sears
from a man who wore black socks with sandals.
It was not the woods where Wayne led me
to a Hefty bag of Hustlers, their centerfolds
stiff from snow. Not the woods
where Lee would stash a six pack of beer
and a box of stogies in wait for me, and slowly finish
two of each as I stood refusing to join him
in fear of my mother. Last week I sat to watch
a National Geographic special with my daughter,
and the screen filled with a million shimmering sperm,
like Hubble footage of a skyful of galaxies
thrashing their little flagella to race
at a tenth of an inch per minute
through vaginaland. I said, You have to learn
about this stuff sometime, and she said,
No I don’t. She’s eleven. At her age I was abusing
a St. Louis Cardinals wristband so early and often
I never had a wet dream. We stopped
the film before one brave sperm could ignite
an egg into a person who would grow to the age
when they saw off your clitoris, or file your teeth
to points with a sharpened stone, or knit leaves
into a glove and fill it with bullet ants and watch
to see if you scream as you shove
your budding warrior hand inside. They make you breathe
in a burqa, stuff your foot into glass, volt you up
on brown-brown and hand you a machete. They offer
a doctored passport and a waitress shift in London
where you find yourself bound to a dirty box spring
in a curtained corner. They want to test you,
they want to hurt you, they want to escort you
into the savage mess they’ve made of womanhood
and manhood. I failed in so many ways, I
was so lucky. I walked into woods by choice,
for kicks, it wasn’t supposed to smelt me into iron
and it didn’t. I even lied when I said I was alone.
I was with Greg Jensen, a boy I neither loved
nor respected, which made the loneliness worse
as we trod between wolf-whispering trees,
stomach-weak, scratched with brambles.
We had to hide the cowering boys inside us
and pretend we could hack it like men
who could swallow poison, take or give
a whip without flinching, like men who’d earned our way
to one day look a child in the face and say this
is how you grow up, this is how you die.

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets

[download audio]


Scott Beal: “I am a recently divorced father with joint custody of two daughters, ages twelve and nine. In high school I had a crush on a girl who carried Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg books in her backpack.  It mystified me that anyone would read poetry by choice, rather than as a painful school assignment. When Lisa played me a recording of Waldman reading ‘Makeup on Empty Space,’ I got swept up in the energy and nerve of the words. I started writing partly to impress Lisa (which didn’t work), but also to see if I could make words, and the world around them, zip and snap like that.”

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