April 15, 2014

Josh Rathkamp

IN RESPONSE TO ANYONE WHO ASKS

She has grown wild
curls flaring from behind her ears.

She prefers blue
bears and crayons.

When we walk through the airport
people smile. On the plane,

a woman sitting next to us
tells me how the puzzles and

pictures

I downloaded on my iPad
are a sign of good fatherhood.

And at once I want to ask her
to write a testimonial, to tell

whoever needs to know:
my daughter

the whole way home, all twelve
hours of layovers

in the Minneapolis airport,
the repeated tram rides

and trying ten dollars
worth of the grabber machine

to lift the blue bunny I felt so bad
I couldn’t reach,

I couldn’t make the claw
wrap tight, but still

my daughter looked up, told me
next time, Dada, next time.

What about that makes me good?
Aren’t I the opposite, begging

to believe that a man like me
is good for a girl like her,

a girl who drives around the block
in a yellow convertible.

If I flip a switch
on the dashboard, I get to remote

control my daughter, turn her around,
make sure she doesn’t stray

into intersections when she plays
with other kids across grass

and class and gender.
We sit back and watch

or get involved—throw a ball,
bend down as far

as our bad backs allow
to draw hopscotch squares

against the driveway. Every word
out of my neighbor’s mouth is “no.”

Every word out of my own is “Shit,
I don’t know.”

What about that makes me good?

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

[download audio]

__________

Josh Rathkamp: “When I was a kid I begged my parents to let me write a poem or a story for my allowance instead of shoveling the driveway or mowing the lawn. Now, as a parent myself, I can’t believe they walked out into the freezing cold or walked lines behind an engine that wanted to eat everything it saw. That had to be sacrifice. I can only hope it was for a greater good.” (website)

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February 28, 2013

Josh Rathkamp

SINGLE FATHER

I stock sugar in my nightstand and still I fear
sleep. I fear my sugar will drop to a drip
in my brain, barely enough to make it run,
to make sweat bead across my forehead,
to make me incomprehensible, inconsolable,
a pillow amongst pillows, a mass of mess,
because what is a body that no longer wants.
In sleep, my body wants to remain
my body, wants to get up, raise the curtains,
watch the trash truck track a trail of newspapers
around the corner, out of the neighborhood,
and into the mountains people here believe
we came from—the back of one dark well.
Rise, our first bodies said, out of bed,
but sometimes mine will not. Sometimes
it must be my daughter who shakes me enough
to open the lid of my life and eat
the round raspberry or strawberry or grape tabs
that dissolve on my tongue like absolutions.
What is a body that doesn’t rise, what is a daughter
to do but wait by the bed, go downstairs, pour
Cheerios, grab a coloring book and draw
square upon square until it becomes a house
with a tree out front, a long driveway,
a basketball hoop, a light shining from the upstairs
bedroom, which must mean in any world
someone is awake.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

__________

Josh Rathkamp: “I never feared much: heights, kumquats, flying, dogs, psychedelic drugs, even my new daughter inspired more awe than fear. That is until I became a single father. A diabetic single father. I’ve been diabetic for over twenty years. But now, at night, my brain spirals. I want to eat whole plates of brownies before bed just to know that my daughter will never walk in my bedroom and find me sweat soaked, to find me not me. I fear now. A lot. That’s this poem.” (web)

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July 18, 2008

Review by Sara E. Lamers

SOME NIGHTS NO CARS AT ALL
by Josh Rathkamp

Ausable Press
1026 Hurricane Road
Keene, New York 12942
ISBN: 978-1-931337-35-9
2007, 91 pp., paper, $14.00
www.ausablepress.org

The poems within Some Nights No Cars At All are poems of distance–the distance we have to travel to get to the person who resides within the same walls we do, the distance to overcome childhood bruises, to see things as they truly are and not as what they appear to be. They are poems that reveal the darkness of relationships, of the way we are apt to wound one another, the way we try to make up, succeed and fail, learn to muddle through and keep on going.

Sure we’ve read poems that tackle these themes before, but it is the way Rathkamp presents tension softly and carefully, breaking the bad news gently that compels the reader onward. As in “June in the Desert,” where the narrative turns from the destruction “out there” to the cold facts in front of the speaker:

Last night my girlfriend said
that there wasn’t a burning
between us, nothing that would make
her tape her life to mine.

Yet the speaker clings to a strand of hope, explaining “but still we decide to wait/ for something to grow/ into something else.” And we sense the pointlessness but appreciate the honesty, knowing that any of us would try to reassure ourselves in the very same way.

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