American Portrait 20

by Ken Harnisch

My mother asked me what
The hell I wanted to be
After I decided
It was not a Doctor, Lawyer
Or Indian Chief

Which admission, coming after 18 years
Stunned and hurt her badly
I was the chosen one
After all
The one who would end up
A titan of industry
And lift the bootstraps
Of herself and the family
From the inequities
Of a wretched life

I recall early on
Not wearing the crown of Savior

I was restless in a way
That bugs are under
The unremitting light of
The magnifying glass
Before they crinkle up
And are burnt to

I liked being smart
But not having it directed to
Exercises in a textbook
Or homework
Done laying over
A bed too short for
My legs, and too dull for
My dreams

Outside a casement window,
The skyscrapers of Manhattan loomed
Like a palisade of iron teeth
My mother would point to the
Woolworth Building
And say she saw me in its uppermost
Presiding over the minions
In the way of my Episcopalian forebears.

But since they had lost
All their religion
In the Great Depression
And ended up as penniless
As me, I wondered after
The purpose of chasing

Silly me. My kind
Doesn’t philosophize.
We look at work and see it
As the only reward
For being born

We figure heaven will welcome us
For being more Darwinian
Than the next guy
And leaving him
To be scraped off
The bottom of our shoes.

When I laid down
In the dark to write, my mother would say
What am I wasting my time for?
Writers don’t’ get paid much
You’ll never be anything
Scribbling in the night

She had that part right, it seems
And I did find I liked work
When it was attached
To no axe I had to bury
In someone’s back

But I also found
That poor as a church mouse
Which I’ve been at times
I still like the apparition
That I see in the bathroom mirror
Better than the portrait
That might have hung
On the boardroom wall.


Author's Note: sometimes the Portraits come home, too

Posted on 08/10/2009
Copyright © 2024 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Kris Mara on 08/11/09 at 02:02 AM

a portrait brought to life...and it's not easy for those who do not write to understand it...or why one would do it...heck, I do it and I can't explain it, so I feel your words here...

Return to the Previous Page

pathetic.org Version 7.3.2 May 2004 Terms and Conditions of Use 0 member(s) and 2 visitor(s) online
All works Copyright © 2024 their respective authors. Page Generated In 0 Second(s)