Monday, July 26, 2010

A Poem: The Rites of Manhood by Alden Nowlan

The Rites of Manhood

It's snowing hard enough that the taxis aren't running.
I'm walking home, my night's work finished,
long after midnight, with the whole city to myself,
when across the street
I see

a very young American sailor

standing over a girl

who's kneeling on the sidewalk
and refuses to get up although he's yelling at her
to tell him where she lives so he can take her there
before they both freeze.
The pair of them are drunk
and my guess is he picked her up in a bar
and later they got separated from his buddies
and at first it was great fun to play at being
an old salt at liberty in a port full of women with
hinges on their heels, but by now he wants only to

find a solution to the infinitely complex
problem of what to do about her before
he falls into
the hands of the police or the shore patrol
—and what keeps this from being
squalid is
what's happening to him inside:

there were other sailors here
it would be possible for him
to abandon her where she is and joke about it
but he's alone
and the guilt can't be
divided into small forgettable pieces;

he's finding out
what it means
to be a man and how different it is
from the way that only hours ago he imagined it.

Alden Nowlan

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