At thirty-five I find I can read poetry.
And this: that I care to.
My father read and wrote poetry.
He professed love for the sonnet’s confinement
while he read Plath
to my mother’s displeasure
listened to Dylan at home
and Limbaugh in the car
extolled Whitman and Emerson
voted for Reagan and Bush
spot-read Civil Disobedience
and marched dutifully through the Harvard Classics Library
emerging with worldview intact.
Is it that at last I reached and broke foundations
laid down in marker and mimeograph
pillar of salt and basket of fish carefully cut from reproduced sheets
hung with love and violence onto flannel-draped board?
Commuting by train to lifeguard at the YMCA
I followed autodidact father with used volumes of
William James (which I dropped in that pool)
Huxley and Orwell and John Milton (always the essays)
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
Though I missed the poetry
as well as context.
I long feared poetry would remain for me like algebra
impenetrable and tinged with pain
Though it happens I’m an excellent math teacher
as I discovered upon confessing ignorance and dyscalculia to test-prep classrooms
at high schools and historically black colleges in North Carolina.
Then to my surprise: they did well.
I employed the same technique
to good effect
when I became
a social worker without training or experience: