Joe’s Daughter

Joe wants me to marry his daughter
but he doesn’t know the kind of man I am.
She is sweet like the cherry wine Norwegians
sip at Christmas and I am the bitter grinds of
yesterday’s coffee. She tells me she loves me,
again and again, parading the terror of her
gentleness through my imagination. I fear
it’s the bitterness she loves but each time
I warn her she takes off her clothes.
Her skin smells like hay after summer rain,
waking every creature in the field.

Joe wants me to marry his daughter
but he doesn’t know the kind of man I am.
I come from a good family, so he assumes I am good.
I read books by wise men, so he assumes I am wise.
I say kind things in his house, so he assumes I am kind.
But the rain is good, miles from the hurricane.
And the saint is wise, miles from temptation.
And the witch is kind while she heats the oven.
When I tell this to his daughter, she bites my ear
and sings like the finch in our tree.

Joe wants me to marry his daughter
but he doesn’t know the kind of man I am.
His faith’s too whole for this cracked-egg world,
proclaiming each day more right than not.
He likes to dance across a room like Fred Astaire.
When I speak of all the armies I’ve deserted, he fills
my glass and calls me a patriot. A man can only take
so much of praise. Little wonder I begin to wonder
if he’s right. Have I underestimated the elasticity
of the soul? Can a man morph into another man
better than the man he knows? Maybe just the man
to marry his precious daughter, that silky caterpillar
with a hundred loving arms. I’d have to watch my step,
love’s such a slippery ledge and she’s wild and free
as any shooting star. Yet sweet like the cherry wine
Norwegians drink at Christmas. And mad enough
to taste something sweet in bitter grinds.