“To Old Men” by Sarah Grieve

Sarah Grieve


No, you cannot borrow my t-shirt. How about
instead of standing there looking shocked, you do
your fucking laundry?
—The Twitter page @shitmydadsays

While my father doesn’t use that type of language, he makes
similar demands about dress: guys who wear bowties
can’t be trusted because bowties are as insincere
as a bouquet of baby’s breath or bringing store-bought
fruitcake to Christmas. For him, a baseball cap
can only be worn backwards after catching seven innings;
just two men in the history of basketball, Wilt the Stilt
and Slick Watts, had heads round enough to sport
sweatbands; and suspenders belong on men over 40
or no one at all. I often think these things when I meet men,
making mental lists of their faults: the gaps in their teeth,
the wheeze that escapes when they exhale, and I wonder
if old men have it right, if the catalogues created
in the easy-chairs of their retirement are less self-indulgent
and more sage because nine times out of ten I don’t answer
the call for a second date. It isn’t because the guy’s hair
is too long or his car needs to be washed or he holds his fork
like it’s a twig used to poke at chicken carcasses. Despite
his ability to fix the faucet and calculate the tip in his head,
I don’t call because in his joints-aching, reading-glasses-wearing,
stick-it-to-you days, I can’t envision that guy turning up
the volume on the television just to yell over it, “Athletes
should never be allowed to wear baggy uniforms
because the league should have some goddamn standards,”
and there should be standards and all announcers
should call the game like Vin Scully or Johnny Most
but most today can’t, which leads Justin’s dad to tweet,
“Do these announcers ever shut the fuck up? Don’t ever say
stuff just because you think you should,” and it is that quiet
between questions, the ability to let conversation collect
like raindrops in an open basin that most young guys
fail to understand and that’s what I want and what most
old men know: how to speak with a pop like wood on a ball
and how it takes them less than 140 characters to say
what they mean and how tying a tie or buttoning a shirt
has a purpose and should be done correctly, and if it is,
if it all matches up, then you might have something to say.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Sarah Grieve: “My friend introduced me to Twitter last fall, and Twitter handles like @shitmydadsays have given us fodder for a number of ridiculous conversations. Combine Twitter with my desire to find a way to make the seemingly ‘unpoetic’ into something poetic, and you have ‘To Old Men.’ This poem is dedicated to my father, whose wit and wisdom sustain me.”

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