C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Contract; Fatherless; Proxies

By: Lyall Harris


nice to meet you too

you swooningly handsome smart creative

Italian whose parents are dear and adore me

your spotlight uniqueness rebounding

off every shiny surface in the theatre

(your mother gives a standing ovation)

I’ll take care of you

I’ll work around your quirks

accept your flair

I’ll smooth over any pitchy parts

while I perfect your language

and you’ll make love look like I don’t need

to heal myself first

you’ll make it look as possible as a beach umbrella

I’ll open any day to shade you

(and would you like sugar in your iced tea?)

you’ll make it look like something I can get behind

like Sophia Loren’s sunglasses

a house on the Mediterranean squinting in one lens

an apartment in Florence in the other

you’ll be Vittorio Gassman

and tell me you like a woman with a little tummy

(a panzettina he said) and I’ll be relieved

even though when you make love I still hide

the desperate shame of that dimpled softness

we’ll make love look like fate

as we settle in the city by the Bay

in a Painted Lady I’ll make shiny new

because our love looks

like a renovated house with a second staircase

slender and practical (another way out)

a clever spiral (our time capsule

nestled behind that Fibonacci wall:

lock of blond hair

chunk of Dolomite from the paternal line

neon lichen unchanged and unchanging

as long as San Andreas will allow

toddlers’ wide-penned drawings

cramped on post-it-sized papers

rolled like cigarettes on a rooftop in Seville

and smoked by a stranger with your name

and a photo of you with the girls

as convincing as Narcissus’ image

in the twisted cylinder)

we’ll make love

look like anticipation even as I am overcome

with thirty-eight weeks of vomit

and only want an inconvenient tomato

a sip of limonata which interrupts your flow

you’ll make it look as safe as bath time and bedtime

as seamless as a father’s kiss and touch

we’ll make love

infrequent but intense and I’ll buy it

even as I wait for Gassman’s other shoe to drop

even as I would have sworn

over your father’s bible this love’s real

we’ll make it look like a cosmopolitan family

with a doting father and summers in Italy

we’ll even live there for a few years

when you’ll make it look like you’ve had quite the life

in America (newly minted blue booklet

among your dual effects)

with time to observe squirrels in the yard

and the roaming flock of wild green parrots

immigrants to Twain’s fog

that feasts on a neighbor’s berries

you’ll be (free) riding that canoe you found

on the river of my undeserving

as my unearned money forks up and over

as it affords me the conductor’s baton

in the pit

of what we’ve staged

as we shake over your house husbandry

and dress it up for the world

and we’ll make love look like I’ve adapted

to your sense of order

as our daughters grow

breasts and wings

you’ll make love look like love reframed

and you’ll punch through the rooms

calling it strangling names

and when I shield them you’ll make love look

like a bull that’s only being a bull and I’m the red cape

and by then you’ll be an expert at making love

look like we agreed

I’m responsible for your wrath

and even then and for a long while yet

we’ll manage to make it

look like a front porch swing

on summer evenings in the Lost Cause South

until those resourceful fireflies start

illuminating their own path

through the humid darkness


you still believe your beguiling words

can do their magic

like my father’s coin trick

quarters toppling out my princess ear

his pocket capable of change

you carry on in ALL CAPS

about the good of the children

about your “win-win” ideas

and invoke your own departed dad

as if you could interpret his message for me

as if the grit of him could reconstitute

billow out of that cold San Miniato urn

like a genie as if

because you’d rubbed the lamp

he would deny me and his grandchildren

as if he would ever have done that

as if your name-calling

would have been anything else to his ear

abracadabra those curses

are transformed into endearments

in your shared tongue as if

as if I’d mistranslated your best efforts

(now it’s convenient to deny

how well I knew your tenses)

to rack our children with shame

kneading it in both hemispheres

and the crevices of their rising sex

as if women aren’t already apologetic

(mound of hair, tender folds

attitude of breast) as if we don’t already yield

enough as you pretend to know what’s best

they’ll be fatherless goes your incantation

and what a terrific loss for them

and something about how you’d never

dishonor me were the roles reversed

(that phrase has a name: Rosalba

and a baby that also ends

in a vowel) win-win window into the father

who writes of his six-year-old’s

“winking come-on”

“Bite my bottom Papà!”

and how he welcomes the occasion to unveil

the word malizia

and attributes this “budding wickedness”

to her (“precocious”) knowing

how he “loves to play

with her intimate parts”


how would the genie of your father

translate that?

because all I hear from his castle of ashes

is that leaving you fatherless

helped break the enchantment

and set us free free FREE


for Ilaria, Silvia, Luca, Marco, Evelina, Demetrio, and Angela

The most likable person you know just might be a sociopath.

—Sarah Manguso


they love you

the version of you

that seems to celebrate them

the version that makes them

feel special because your specialness rubs off

the version that allows them

to doubt themselves a little less

that gives them a sense of purpose

that feeds their need

to be helpful

that believes the image

without further question

the reasonable version of you

that appears to bow down in humility

they can’t smell the false

modesty how it stinks up our kitchen

every time you leave

your smiling lips on the curb

gleaming teeth chewing the dazzled eye

of your bewitched interlocutor

how your proxies feel

their righteousness

even indignation at the injustice I wield

powerful-oh-so-powerful me piloting

armies in your absence

and isn’t it curious

how so many believe my distortions

how my insanity is upheld

by the law

but you are as clever as a fox

you old devil you

stroking your proxies

with that feathery russet tail

(Jemima Puddle-Duck

runs home to get herbs

for the omelet)

dear proxies where were you

when he threw our first born

across the room and stormed

into her ears and lost his voice over it

and later raged at h