Zippo | Poem by Judith Slater

Sometimes, when we are children, someone or something suddenly throws open a window and the world of adults pours in. And we never quite get over it. Here’s a poem about an experience like that by Judith Slater, who lives in New York.

Sometimes, when we are children, someone or something suddenly throws open a window and the world of adults pours in. And we never quite get over it. Here’s a poem about an experience like that by Judith Slater, who lives in New York.

Zippo

I didn’t think handsome then, I thought

my father the way he saunters down Main Street,

housewives, shopkeepers, mechanics calling out,

children running up to get Lifesavers. The way

he pauses to chat, flipping his lighter open,

tamping the Lucky Strike on his thumbnail.

 

I sneak into his den when he’s out, tuck

into the kneehole of his desk and sniff

his Zippo until dizzy, emboldened;

then play little tricks, mixing red and black

inks in his fountain pen, twisting together

paperclips. If I lift the telephone receiver

 

quietly, I can listen in on our party line.

That’s how I hear two women

talking about him. That’s why my mother

finds me that night sleepwalking, sobbing.

“It’s all right,” she tells me,

“you had a nightmare, come to bed.”

 

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Judith Slater from her most recent book of poems, The Wind Turning Pages, Outriders Poetry Project, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Judith Slater and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

 

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