The Audacity of Tenderness by Joey Copsey

I’ve been working on this poem since the first week of the lockdown. Not sure if it’s ready but figured it’s at least food for thought. I’ve personally been doing a lot of thinking about hard times and the people that survived them to bring us here. Thinking about the debt we owe them and the duty we have to do right by those looking back at us from the future.

 

The Audacity of Tenderness

When grandpa came home from the war,

(funny, 80 years and endless wars later it is still The War,)

He met his wife’s daughter.

The story of how my aunt came to be died with Grandma.

From what I understand, or what I choose to believe,

Grandpa never asked.

Maybe it was being the 16th child of a Nebraska homesteader.

Maybe it was the loss of his father at 12.

Maybe it was the faceless names of siblings lost in 1918.

Maybe it was the dust bowl,

and the uncle who went for a walk and vanished into the wind.

Maybe it was following the marines across the pacific,

Rebuilding paradise isles, recently made living hells.

Maybe it was just too much life lived for a twenty-something soul

That made him take my aunt in his arms

and love her as his own.

Or maybe it was just his nature.

The unpredictable vagaries of genetics and experience,

That produced a saint rather than a monster.

Who can say?

When I was eight years old I was brought to his deathbed.

I can’t remember what he whispered in my ear.

I like to imagine it was a call to kindness and fortitude.

Things he seemed never to have lacked.

Maybe it was a simple plea to be a good boy.

The words are lost to me now,

But the gravity of the day remains.

One of those days that divide a life

Into before and after.

A lot like today.

When before is dusty antiquity,

And after is a big black blind spot

In the periphery of right now’s panicked focus.

As I look out my window

Into the silent terror of a lovely spring day,

It is easy to feel oneself

As an orphan of circumstance

Thrust into a cold and cruel conceit,

Forgetting that warm and welcoming arms await

From time to time,

In the most unexpected places.

I take solace in the commonality

of my sordid family drama.

In those days such tales were a dime a dozen.

Reminding us that in the hardest of times,

We need not lack the audacity of tenderness.