Mennonite Poetry Home | Robert Martens



father jacob

well maybe you're right, he
said, maybe buddhists have true
things to say
— and our mother,
appalled, hushed him, knowing
heresies like this could toast a
good mennonite on his bad side
in hell's eternal barbecue — he
said nothing more, kept family peace —

and here he was, on a sunny
afternoon, lakeside, in the park,
among the locals seeking the space
between doubt and debt — and
the parking lot jammed — look bob,
he said — the thin focus of his
face, the twist of a smile that
meant we'll get through together —
look bob, he said, you're
parked in the illegal lane, and
that cop is writing tickets, but don't
worry, you move your car and i'll
distract him
— no he wouldn't

break the rules — but he bent them,
behind their backs, behind their
lives straight and true — and
their rules our private joke, flexible,
changeable — but they'd have their peace —

and there he was, grinning with the cop,
arms crossed, then the left hand
raised, gesturing, the story of
something shared, because they
both laughed, because he wanted
peace — and maybe the cop did too —

he said — though he had little reason
to trust — he once said to a friend,
the good things, but also the bad
things in our town, i am that too

little reason to have faith, the soviet
terror, the typhus, famine, the
bellies and dead horses, the edicts
of the criminally stupid — and then
flight, refugee in a bright british
nation, democratic, straight and
true, free to the lonely, the
displaced, the submissive mennonite
hunch — he had little reason —

what did he share with the
cop, what did they laugh about
together, some small sunny
story lakeside, in the park,
while he distracted, mustering
the sufferings of his childhood, while
he carefully bent the straight and
true — our father wanted nothing
but peace — he saved me

from a parking ticket — he willed
his laughter to my uncalloused
heart — so that on bad days i
want the suburbs to settle still
forever, and terror, famine, disorder,
mere squiggles beyond the perfect compass
of the city — so that on
good days, my beloved enemy,
oh welcome, the boot, the edict,
the lonely, to the worn and
cracking spirals of my nation,
and nothing but peace —

© Robert Martens




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