painting by paul schulenburg


Al Maginnes



What Goes Unsaid

Because quiet equaled strength in the movies
you grew up on, because your father’s example
was silence, you find yourself maker and giver
of laws, not the benign patriarch you dreamed yourself.
So when your daughter crosses an uncrossable line,
backing you into the corner where heroes are defined,

you play your last card and order her from your house,
sentencing yourself to nights of anxious regret
you’ll spend driving the roads around the handful of places
she still mentioned to you, searching for her or one
of the pierced and strangely dressed friends who never spoke
when you were around. On the second night of this,

you think you see her under a streetlight, but she’s gone
by the time you get there. First boy in your class
to pierce his ear, veteran of uncounted disputes
over clothes and hair, adept at prodding parents
from silent contemplation of a meal to careless rage,
how many nights did you slam the door behind you,

run into night’s silence? How many times, hero
of your own unscripted movie, did you dodge
the sweeping gaze of your father’s headlights? If you try,
you can still taste the dirt on the potatoes you dug
out of hard-frozen ground and had to chew down raw
when your final match could not get a fire started.

You would never be so grateful for your father’s silence
as you were two nights later when he found you, drunk
on Irish Rose and throwing up between two cars.
And now you understand his silence was not strength
but fear. And it is fear you feel driving to the house
where one of her friends says she might be found, but you walk

through the door like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood coming
to have it out with a bunch of drunken rustlers.
There are no rustlers here, only two thin-armed boys
too wrecked to offer any menace, and your daughter,
gray-faced and limp as string, passed out on a couch.
Going home, she squirms and murmurs sounds you translate

into thanks, and you want to believe she will no longer
hide behind silence and you will be the parent
you wanted for yourself. But when she sits with you
a few nights later to watch one of those movies
that make justice a simple thing, neither of you speaks,
mute before a screen where speech is always a weakness.