Birthing the Man
- July 19, 2017
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(This prose-poem was to be a chapter in my book To Be a Man, but didn’t quite fit there.)
Some men, recoiling from hardness, get stuck in softness and excessive tolerance, drawing their flight from power ever inward, ever tighter, squeezing the power out of their breath and the heat out of their anger and the passion out of their lust, trading in their strength for approval and security and validation, again and again making nice or caving in to prove their harmlessness, confusing surrender with collapse and emotional flatness with equanimity.
At times they obliquely potshot raw male power, smudging and judging its lyrics, turning away from its muscular intensity and primal solidity, scrambling to please yet another surrogate of their childhood’s dominant parent, reducing themselves to not much more than beggars for his or her multi-headed applause, little men with big fears, their deeper tears falling in deserted rooms, neglected yards, broken fields.
In the vacuum more often than not left by their fathers, that vacuum crowded with loneliness, that emptiness battle-numbed and flattened and silently weeping, that backslapping absence or sleepy hollow, populated with the cement swirling of misguided challenge and disconnected care, the ethical sewage of misdirected shame, and the slaps of far-from-fatherly touch, such men do their time, ricocheting behind the scenes, bouncing around between a surplus of insistent shoulds, castrating their passion and forcefulness, bottling the pain as best they can, sterilizing the screams and storing the rest, leaving it in shadowed display in the secret museums of their gelded remains.
Fleeing their full-blooded maleness while equating it with the ugliness and brutality of aberrated masculinity, they frequently dwell in highrises of mind, worldly or otherworldly, greening their deserts of abstraction and self-contraction with oases of consolation and handy flesh, copulating with mirages of femininity or refuge, repeatedly sacrificing their anorexic inner warrior on toxically reasonable altars, offering his heart and belly to their deified self-shrinkage while they half-march for peace, secretly designing and refining new weapons for their inner war, crushing their instinct to pass through a saner door, leaving their love puddling in lukewarm corridors, deadening themselves to keep the cries deep within from surfacing.
Other men, hiding out in the foxholes of their maleness, spurn and vacate their vulnerability and softness, paving over the wasteland of their anesthetized torso, keeping a hotline expressway open between brain and groin, a pornographic hookup of scantily-clad taboos and rising heat, their chest, whether inflated or deflated, a no-man’s-land, their belly, whether flat or fat, a meatiness of misaligned power, their jaw and loins and ambition obsessed with thrust, their flesh burdened by decades of split-level lust and a great subterranean sadness.
Talking too loudly as they race up and down the freeways of diseased boyhood, going nowhere fast, they allow their inner warrior to be exploited, to be reduced to little more than a fighting and fucking machine, an obsessive doer impaled on consistency, a square-shouldered puppet of industrial-strength shoulds, self-sentenced to solitary, isolated even in womanly embrace, too lost to lose face.
They rationalize their self-mutilation, their self-rejection, their flight from shame, their doing time in the troughs of unnatural selection, plastering siliconed pinups on their spiritual oblivion, turning away from the enemy’s child even as they turn away from their own softness and innocence, running from the boy they once were, the broken boy still loitering in a toughened loneliness, emptied of himself, already hardened for the next command, steeling himself against feeling, against revealing and healing, thinking and shrinking himself into a logic of heartless survival and pleasurable distraction, trusting only his mistrust.
It is between these, between the overly soft and the too hard, the wimp and the bully, the strategically sensitive and the reasonably numb, the de-scrotumed and the obsessively penile, the bored room and the savage space, the terminally nice and the violent, the limp and the stiff, the gentleman and the tough, the nice guy and the jerk, that so many men teeter-totter, trying to anchor themselves in a more loving land, a place bright with true man, the man at home with all of his qualities.
The arms of all men, however armored, flaccid, calculating, or committed to building mansions for their pride and out-of-the-way cells for their dark side, carry a shade of reaching, a reaching prior to any teaching, a reaching straining with longing, whether encrusted by neediness, as in the rigidly soft man, or by roughness and toughness, as in the fixatedly hard man, or by plastic acceptance, as in the excessively liberal man, or by seductive slickness, as in the obsessively tailored man, or by indifference, as in the empathy-barren or spiritually over-ambitious man, and this is a reaching rooted in both warrior and child, man and boy, adolescent and elder, outgoing and ingoing, thrust and welcome, a reaching for love, a love that does not have to be bought, but only lived, a love aflame with awakening’s alchemy, a love intimate with the deepest mystery, a love that’s none other than our true ground, a love that fuels the greatest journey of all.
Yet still so many men fight their reaching, each the battleground for his interior wars, victor and vanquished sinking into bloody mud, crushed together flesh to flesh, cheek to cheek, yet still so far apart with so little shared heart, sinking into trenches, down and down, just about every woman who’s even remotely attractive to them being both a choice hunk of real estate and a minefield, a luscious yet poisoned harbor, a red-carpet nightmare and a voluptuous suction, a dreamy promise, a hideout, a cultic sanctuary, a womb and a tomb, inescapable even for those who, fleeing the call of their flesh, chant, pray, meditate, fast, and concentrate upwards in the luminous cave behind their forehead, seeking immunity in Forever’s infinite bubble, struggling to somehow permanently abide in the formless dimensions of the Supreme, separating themselves from the demands and dreams, sacred and otherwise, of their manhood, ever finding themselves brought back in the flesh by their avoidance of true manliness, suctioned toward the bottomlessly Female.
Some men, courageous enough to stop playing buddy to their armoring, be it hard or soft, and gutsy enough to unpeel and reveal and fully feel without castrating their power, find a young boy crouched in the dark, the long dark, the orphaned dark, a half-sobbing boy, a boy crushed and bleeding, hammering against the inside of their chest, hammering and hammering with tiny stammering fists, a boy bruised and divided, shoulders sagging, throat and truth far apart, a confused boy with not enough real father and too much mother, already either enemy or slave to the Female, just like Daddy, but still nevertheless hammering and hammering, screaming to be felt, to be touched, to be known, to be held, to be encircled and guided by the truly masculine, screaming and screaming, squashed by grownup silence and gutted classrooms, crushed by bad associations between vulnerability and weakness, the ignoring of his voice a choice pushing him closer to a deadening edge.
And still the boy calls, calling for the jailer’s love, the man’s love, love plain and simple, love uncluttered by mind, love clear and direct and fresh and goddamn the paternal patter, the embarrassed impotence, the slamming doors and useless explanations, the flat eyes, the resignation, the sagging duty, the congealed cries, and goddamn the plastic sky, no more than the ceiling of Daddy’s hungriest thought, and goddamn the lame acceptance of the knot pulled so tight between sternum and spine, shutting out the boy’s calling, muting his message, his eyes clouded with smothered longing, his heart dropping between his ragged knees, his choice seemingly but to fight, flee, or freeze.
Men and men and men, do you not see the lovelessly relentless shoulds so often framing your name, packed with deadening collusion, well-dressed confusion, and slaveships of invasive expectations? Do you not sense the secondhand scent, the perfumed rot of romantic delusion, the wraparound ads of drive-through titillation, the addiction to making it big, so big that you can never again be shamed? Do you not feel the frozen or jellied jaw, the slitted or mind-fitted glance, the classroom drugging of upstart cries, the got-it-together disguise, the emotional hard-on? Or the haloed emasculation, the limping passion, the over-glorified sensitivity, the righteous flight from anger and lust, flashing a spiritual smile? Do you not long for more substance and less style, and to cease the denial, and to cut loose the shoulds that keep you on trial?
Men and men and men, do you not feel the unhealed hurt, the long-ago but still present wounding somewhere beneath your data-jammed mind, and do you do not feel the fear to openly confess what you’re really doing, and do you not feel the innocence you will not bless, the pain of pretending that father knows best, the price of pretending that you are not pretending, the heartbreak that cries out for more than a superficial mending?
There’s a fast-aging father staggering blindly through a maze of foggy streets, archaic avenues, degraded alleys, nylon labyrinths, bloody ditches, cement canyons, smoky hollows, pornographic wastelands, his paycheck in one hand, his despair in the other, his face a defeated fist or an optimistic list, his stride not his, his boyhood crushed behind his eyes, his pride trampling his cries, too much of his life a mechanical march, a dead-end trip with a blank epitaph, a buried cry for a truer life.
He lives in you, however far from sight, his muffled needs and suffocated dreams sculpting you, defining your stance, your cultural trance, binding you to a rigid dance, driving you into your headquarters to wage needless wars, and it is his chest, whether inflated or deflated, through which you wander and squander your juice, desperately searching for the treasure, the quick-buck or super-success grail, fighting false dragons, pursuing false maidens, living in castles of storybook maleness, seeding your sons with the same disease, the same old soul-freeze.
Must you wear his shoes, or the opposite? Must you submit to him, or spear him? Only in weaning yourself from his vision of you, only in intimacy with the authority native to you, only in claiming your own ground, only in the clarity and depth of your own soul-land, your own heart’s primal demand, can you really go past your past with him, both forgiving and outliving him, your stride lit with emerging strength, transparency, and fierce compassion.
He wanders large but vague across a quivering snapshot pinned behind your eyes, and your mother, or someone like her, fills the foreground, however passively, her gaze brimming with promised milk and sweet bedtimes, her touch, given or not, craved, and her presence, dark or light, hard or soft, meek or not, made irresistible by an aura or promise of eternal sanctuary, and there you linger at the bottom of the photo, no larger than a thumbprint, wearing a partial smile, your eyes belonging to two very different faces, your seedling grief but the faintest of smudges.
Men and men and men, listen to your cry, listen to both its earth and its sky, listen to its hidden strength, its noble core, feeling the music of what gives it a shore, letting your cry, your roar, your pure shout, run down through your legs and feet, letting its wild muscular roots plunge deep into moistly waiting soil, letting your cry grow wings until your forehead is an infinity of sky and your flesh gleams with sinewy joy, letting your shout blast through the babbled clutter and clever mutter of your mentalizing, letting your cry open you deep, ashimmer with the unbridled fullness of you, the power and grace and pain and sweetness of unadulterated manhood.
Give your inner listening a heart, letting inside and outside be lovers, transparently entangled beneath starry covers, and give your passion a presence both sensitive and gutsy, both tender and lusty, making room for the hero to weep, giving the woman in you your full-blooded all, dying into a deeper life, coming fully alive and loving through your surrender, your luminous rocketing, your sweating grace and ecstatic loss of face, your wholehearted embrace.
Eat these lines, bite deep, bite fierce, bite with more than your teeth, more than your mind, more than your constructed manhood, tonguing out the kernel and slowly crushing it, releasing and absorbing its sudden nectar, its bittersweet depths and wonder, knowing that is to your release, your freedom, that you are being invited. Brother, father, and son, boy and elder, newborn and dying, poet and samurai, far and near, foggy and clear, all in one, and I hear you calling, calling and calling, calling through all of us, all of this, ever birthing the man.