Boy at the Plate by Ralph Culver

Boy at the Plate
—for my children, and for my parents

Spread, the boy’s legs are unsteady
as tent poles in a squall.
It is useless to tell him
I know what this is,
waiting on someone who seems
as near as the end of his reach
to give him his chance
at shame. That he hardly believes
it is himself: I heard that voice
in my head so many times
it became a weapon,
the only weapon I had.
It is useless to tell him
the same voice splits from the throat
of the field mouse, rearing up
to teeth as long as its own forelegs—
useless, and wrong. For now,
the boy must believe he stands
in the mouth of the first fear
birthed in the world. Later,
in time, perhaps while
watching his own and shaken by
the glory of it that it is,
he will see for himself
the common fear, the common love
he fell out of, now into,
and watch, and love, and be thankful.

by Ralph Culver

Editor’s Note: Some poems are so tightly constructed that the emotional impact of the last line slides into place the way a home run ball unexpectedly flies into the grip of a child waiting for a hot dog, not a miracle.


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