Tory Adkisson

What It Means to Be a Man

And brandish the stoker
and cut wood for the fire using
only your teeth, wood
for the bookcase you built
with your bare hands, every
shelf a perfect tooth that fits
perfectly with each other,
a smile that pulls the room together
better than any rug. You handle
each tool from your toolbelt
perfectly, hammer all the nails
and screw in all the screws,
cradle a baby bird’s soft body
aloft, its feathers splintering
against your hardscrabble fingers.
You’ve learned to polish 
the metal deftly, scour a good
patina, keep your boots
from tracking globs of mud
on the kitchen floor when you
go stomping through the house
at a wide gait to brush
my cheek with your scruff like
fireflies skimming over a fog.
Your costumes are flannel,
dungarees, knit caps that only cover
the back of your skull. The antlers
of a deer you slaughtered hang
above the fireplace like set dressing
for a theater. You are a star
because you know how to shoot
a gun and pull the hart’s heart
from its carcass, how to season
it with Szechuan peppers until
its tender enough to chew.
Your father taught you how to 
kill and how to eat, but he never
taught you how to trace the salt
from elbow to armpit, how to gaze
into another man’s eyes without
fear and bring two sets of hands
together in a lattice of touch.
I taught you that.

Tory Adkisson earned an MFA from The Ohio State University where he also edited The Journal. His poems have been published widely in journals such as Third Coast, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, 32 Poems, and Boston Review. He currently lives and writes in San Francisco.