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Two Poems


When My Father Says Toughen Up

it's like the clop of the walnut
block beneath the gavel of the

judge who fits the punishment
to the crime, or like the pop of the

velveteen seedpod of the lupine
finally scattering its ordnance of

shot amongst the hollyhock,
or like the aftershock of a

Massey Ferguson engine cut off
too hot, that chuff out the muffler

that echoes off the pole barn
sharp as a whooping cough,

or like the upstart of a startled
ruffed grouse thumping into

flight right beside you on a walk,
or like the hard clap on the back

you get when you choke, as if
to congratulate you. He doesn't

say it to berate you, he says it to
hike you up an inch or two, like

when he took you by the collar
when you were little to zip you

into that boiled wool jacket he
sent you out to chores with,

or like the high salute we send
soldiers to wars with.
 

When We Say Knuckle Down

we mean there's torque to be
doubled, the way the quarter-
horse recouples her shoe-heavy

hooves, head down, and throws
herself forward, we mean
the load in the sled demands a

hard haul ahead, the hill to be
taken as a problem not of moment
but momentum, we mean

the chili will taste better once
the bitter bread of winter's eaten,
slashing our faces sheet on sheet,

just as in summer we mean
it matters not how hot the sun
if there are chores to be done.

The knuckles have nothing
to do with it really, not the ones
around reins or handles, not

the ones we wring like rags over
figures evenings—no we don't
mean those—we mean the knuckles

of our wills, those folding bones
in there somewhere where our
lives have hold of the land—

we mean that the whole body,
the whole mind, the whole
damned soul is a goddamned hand.


Todd Boss

Tough Luck
W. W. Norton


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