“Time Out” by John Brehm

John Brehm


I cannot save her, she will be broken, is broken,
will be broken again and again, this little girl,
five or six, in a grubby pink dress,
black hair, fat cheeks, hard black eyes
on her father—a giant version of herself
inflated by time and half-controlled
rage—who grabs her shoulders
and shoves her down on the sidewalk,
against the brick wall of the bookstore
I’m about to enter, and stands back
waiting as she gets up, tries to run
past him, unstoppable force,
immovable object, and grabs her again,
slams her down, the exact same motions
but harder this time, both of them
like marionettes the god who rules over
ruined childhoods guides with gnarled fingers,
and my hard-wired, Paleolithic radar
for violence flares inside me, turns me
towards them, makes me want to slam him
into the next universe, and horrible things
will happen today that none of us can stop,
savage human fear everywhere in full swing,
the need for comfort never-ending,
need beyond all depth and measure—
everything will happen and none can stop it
but this will not happen, not here, not now,
though she will be broken, and I say,
“Hey, man, you do that again, I’m calling
the cops—what is going on here?”
and he says, “She’s having a time-out,
call the cops if you want to,” and the raspy
mother smoking on the street corner says,
“She’s having a time-out, that’s good discipline,
daddy,” and I stand there, held in this moment,
and then he starts to gentle her, sets her
softly down, and she snarls her lip, sputters
up at him, five-year-old for go fuck yourself,
and I think good for you and he calls her
honey, kneels down close to talk to her,
and I can’t tell if it’s a show for me or if it’s real,
though I can feel he feels my eyes on him,
and I’m not going anywhere, until he takes
her hand and walks her inside the bookstore,
a shimmering mirage of loving father
and trusting child, and I follow them
to where all the helpless words are kept
and time itself rests inside the covers
waiting to be set free now
and forever and he lets
me walk away.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


John Brehm: “The incident described in the poem occurred just outside Powells bookstore where he was on his way to buy a book by Ron Padgett. He lives in Portland, Oregon.” (web)

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