Captain Lee

Lee Vining, California

Lee Vining, California (Photo credit: brewbooks)

This poem was originally published in The Chimera, August 2009.

Captain Lee

Lee’s father died the night that Lee was born
By falling down a well. He’d drunk too much.
He was the one Lee’s uncle calls the lush.
Lee’s mother sang in clubs. They tried to warn
Her not to trust the SOB who’d torn
Her dress and forced her in his car to touch
His crotch then cried. But she was in a rush
To wed, though all their marriage brought was thorns,
Or so the note his father left had said.
When Lee turned twenty-one, his uncle gave
The note to him. “Our secret. Let the dead
Stay dead. No one needs to know I saved
It.” So, Lee hid the note behind his bed
And keeps his father’s secret in the grave.

Lee rises every day at dawn. The rose
That bleeds each day to orange, then gold, then blue
Is music for his eyes. He likes how dew
Ignited by the sun dances and throws
Off sparkling light like jewels his uncle shows
To buyers at the store, the people who,
His uncle says, can see a stone has true
Worth only when they see how bright it glows.
Lee likes the way his uncle always tries
To help. He buys his mother clothes. He finds
Odd jobs for Lee and doesn’t realize
That Lee can’t learn, although in teacher’s minds
Lee’s always been unteachable. Lee’s days
Shine like rubies lit by his uncle’s praise.

Lee’s uncle told him once, “Enterprise earns
Respect. You do a job. You win a game.
People make it a point to know your name.
That goes for learning too. The man who learns
Is not the one who quits and idly yearns
For things others say he’s no right to claim.
All that comes from quiting’s feeling shame.
But work and study both will get returns.
I know they told you you were dumb. But a lie
Can’t change what’s true, and thorns won’t keep a rose
From bloom. And you will bloom. I’ll tell you why.
You’ve watched the sun. You’ve seen the way it burns
Away the night. Well we can be the same
And burn up demons dressed in teachers’ clothes.”

Lee’s mother tried to sympathize. “I’ve seen
The way my brother’s words could calm a flock
Of hungry crows. But listen when he talks
To what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t mean
To hurt you. But his argument implies
Your life’s your fault, your woes all self-imposed.
What keeps you down’s not laziness. You grew
Inside me wrong. Your blood in my womb drew
From mine the retribution for my highs
And lows. I drank. I’d reasons, but the whys
Don’t matter. Blame your mother. Your uncle knows
You can’t do things the same as others who
Are right. He shouldn’t tell you enterprise
Can remedy those things I can’t undo.”

Like ensigns on the bridge, the birds outside
Lee’s window sound alerts, and anyone
Who hears them knows how long before the sun
Appears. Lee takes his post as daylight slides
Across the edge of night. A captain’s place
Is at the helm. When Lee first heard the world’s
A wanderer through space, it made no sense.
The sun came up, went down, the stars encased
By night came back and didn’t change, like pearls
Inside an oyster, Lee behind a fence.
But when Lee heard of Enterprise he knew
And understood. The earth’s a bridge, and dawn’s
The power source that’s kept him moving to
Where only he and no one else has gone.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2012.

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