Margaret Levine, “A Man I Knew”

It feels more than a mere obligation to be with family over the holidays. But even calling such relations “necessary” sounds like a feeble attempt at description. Regarding family, a primal consciousness is at play—Antigone must bury her brother, despite the law and its consequences, because her brother shares in her own creation. Not simply “flesh and blood,” but this “flesh and blood.” One might begin to think family matters dictate to the gods, not the other way around. A sense of being, anchored in what is natural, lending itself to the origins of convention: a name, an identity, a recognition of possession.

"A Man I Knew" (from Poetry 180)
Margaret Levine

has a condo

a maid who comes
every other week

kids who won't

are on the dresser
they float forever

like a boat

None of my fancy talk above seems adequate to describe being estranged from one’s own children. Kids who won’t [visit] / are on the dresser / they float forever / like a boat. The sensations evoked: being lost, adrift, drowning. Some essential part of you floats over you like a dream; you can’t access it, you’re not even sure why it’s necessary, you only feel pain. What we have been told is necessary has been tidily dispatched in the first few lines. There’s a condo / a maid who comes / every other week.

Many of us have grown up with this sort of parental rhetoric. Attend to your needs, make sure you’ve got a roof over your head and an income. If you have any other needs, go to church. This hardly seems adequate in the face of missing one’s own children, and is certainly not adequate for understanding why one would have children or miss one’s own children in the first place. Love is a commandment as well as a strange and complicated realm where a picture on a dresser says far more than a condo or cleaning service. The holidays are difficult for many us because we’re dealing with a materialism so thorough it has lost the ability to articulate its own needs. Some “float forever,” visible but gone.

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