Lament for Old Girlfriends

A man never suffers the depths of his own cruelty

until his daughter recognizes him for the first time

He cradles the nascent woman and beholds her eyes

The human in her fixes his image and trusts him

He lifts her to his face and inhales her,

a breeze that’s settled in his lap

He turns his ear to her voice and sings

though he can’t remember when last he sung

He smooths his palm across her head and neck

and shudders at how breakable she must be

Her own hands cannot be reproduced

by any form of art

Over time, she begins to skip ahead of him

through the grass, hums for no reason

He marvels at her exuberance, laughs when

her arguments outdistance his

He discovers a quality he lacks but has

no definition for

Her ways terrify him; he fears something unknown

will crush her and she will vanish with the best

of his memories

She grows taller, bolder, more private

He watches her test herself in the mirror,

plead for approval, notices how much time

it takes and how carefully she draws herself new

with pencil and brush, how often she pulls a comb

through her fragile hair

When the doorbell rings, he smiles with her,

her face anticipating the boy outside

Later in the night when her sobs shake the settled house

he carries her pain with him outside and sits alone,

feels each sob again and again dagger sharp, confesses

the Spring Dance when he stood up the sweet girl who

had already bought his boutonniere; another woman

dressed for dinner he told he could never love,

confesses the lies he authored in greeting cards,

his battering wit, his need to be victorious and draw tears

He confesses these and other unthinkable sorrows to old breezes

haunting him now, to the faces of the women who took him in

with their eyes and trusted him to see them human

Too late he knows about women what a younger man might have

known had he looked into their eyes and seen in them his own