Tuesday Poem: ‘Operation, October’ by Bryan Walpert

Operation, October

Someone is inserting a knife into my father,
slipping it into his skin in the way
we might imagine it to sound

in our darkening fear, walking home, of giving
ourselves to someone as an animal does
in the brush in some countries. My father

will not remember any of this, and while
they cut, in these hours, I know more
than my father, feel that knowledge

heavily, like a wool blanket
I am too deeply in dream to kick off.
Winter is coming. The fireflies

no longer poke holes in the backyard.
The hospital is two thousand miles away.
Each summer, he urged me to join a team,

throw a ball, climb into a uniform. Things
he had never done, and I would never do
for him. Of course, in the throes of worry,

I nearly wish I had, almost as much as I wish
he had not asked. But who accepts another?
Despite my begging, each Halloween,

Mother would refuse to sew for me
the devil’s horns, the hero’s cape, the doctor’s coat.
The sewing has come at last, while we wait,

each imagined stitch of his back, when I let
myself think of it, the tick of an implacable
metronome. Is it because my face

grows into his that I am most disturbed
by the image of his limp form
wheeled into an elevator, lifted

onto an operating bed? I lie by the phone
listening to the wind weave its fabric.
He had no choice but to ask,

just as I had no choice but to refuse
to be the boy he imagined, just as Mother
had no choice but to refuse to make me

into what I imagined, and so on.
And so on a single gurney each of us
is rolled beneath the fluorescent bulbs,

and, tonight, in the window’s reflected light,
I am myself, the spitting image,
untouched flesh of my father.

“Operation, October” is from Bryan Walpert’s collection of poems, Etymology (Cinnamon Press). I’ve previously posted another poem from this collection (called “Horse Story”) as a Tuesday Poem. It’s a brilliant collection, and I think this poem is one of the most touching of the collection. I enjoy the beautifully rendered imagery, the dream-like quality, and the poem’s tender sadness.

Bryan Walpert is also the author of A History of Glass (Stephen F. Austin State UP, forthcoming October), and Ephraim’s Eyes (Pewter Rose Press), named a Best Book of 2010; and a scholarly monograph, Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge). His work has been published widely in journals or anthologies in NZ, the UK, and his native U.S., and has received a number of awards, most recently the James Wright Poetry Award from the Mid-American Review. He teaches creative writing at Massey University’s School of English & Media Studies in Palmerston North. At the moment he is seeking a publisher for his new collection of poetry, Native Bird.

For more information, visit http://bryanwalpert.com.

For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.


7 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘Operation, October’ by Bryan Walpert

  1. Wonderful, thank you, Sarah – I particularly like the sounds at the start – the raw awfulness of them – and the business of cutting and sewing that is surgery but that somehow we push to one side to try not to think about. You’ve sent me back to Etymology which I loved.

  2. Gosh I just love the way the poet’s mind works…as he struggles with the
    fear in this situation the awfulness as viewed by another putting themselves into the situation…and the way like a drowning person he goes through the choices his parents made for him…and reconstitutes it all into something worthwhile at the end.Thank you both for sharing.

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