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My Father’s Pornography

by David Wojahn

The semiotics not of sex but of concealment, the lessons,
  the legacy of dark.
It’s a strongbox in the basement, a corner in his woodworking shop.
  Inside, a prostitute of
forty years ago is swallowing a massive, blue-veined cock.
  The man is wearing
boxer shorts around his knees, white socks. Another man,
  a black man, enters her

from behind. Her expression? Bogus pleasure, eyes
  histrionically wide.
The photographer, I suppose, is demanding she look horny.
  A few of the shots
are four-color glossy, most a grainy black and white. I’ve already
  said too much. What next?
The damp smell of the basement he so carefully panelled.
  No dialogue:

the father always silent as the men within these pages.
  How old is the boy when he finds them?
Twelve? Fifteen? Always the humid smell, his ears alert,
  waiting for the car door slam,
the front door unlocking as his parents return from their
  Friday dinner out. Yes,
he is touching himself. The photographs. This is not how I meant
  to tell it: start again.
In the bookstore, the shelves’ collage of body and genital,
  stacked up to the ceiling,
each book vacuum-sealed in plastic. From here across the room
  they’re a sheaf of postage stamps
from some debt-plagued island dictatorship, its exports baseballs,
  wooden carvings, phalatelic rarities.
And I am Baby Doc, my shades and leather coat, my kingdom
  Girls in Leather, American Erotica,

Hustler, Penthouse, Girls Who Take. . . . The air
  conditioner, hissing.
Background music: big band songs. The curtained booths,
  my quarters. I would like it
to stop here. This should not be written down. Another poem.
  What could it contain?
A playlet. Empty stage and spotlight, my father lugging
  the strongbox from a corner.

Spotlight: my father in his hospital gown, the day before
  more weeks of electro-shock.
If you look closely you will see him weeping, but I don’t
  know how to tell you,
can’t trust what I could say. I return to myself,
  and the curtained booth
and the woman’s face, crying too — the director no doubt
  goading her to grander

postures of orgasm, her blonde head thrashing, the film
  now wavering, flickering,
all the quarters gone. Then I’m paying for the magazines.
  On the car radio, white noise
of news and weather, Emperor Hirohito dying. He has not
  been told of his cancer.
Such knowledge, his doctors believe, will cause him
  too much fright. The Emperor has lost

a half-pint of blood, but today sipped a few spoonfuls of soup,
  his first solid food in weeks.


David Wojahn teaches at Indiana University and in the MFA program at Vermont College. His third collection, Mystery Train, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press earlier this year. (1990)

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