Treasure Island

Max Reif

(1948 / OVER 400 POEMS SERVED! !)

The Tie

Dad taught me to tie it
to get a Cub Scout merit badge,
to shine my shoes for another one.
I was being groomed, literally,
to take my place in society.

A tie circled my neck
during the farce of my Bar Mitzvah,
a bow tie at the Junior Prom,

then ties every day that summer
after my first year of college
selling ads for the Apartment Guide
dad had decided to publish.

I was his hands in the world,
just the young man
to spring upon executives
who would always buy a page
from someone wanting
to become just like them.

We made enough that summer
to pay for my second
year at Northwestern.

Nine months later I was back,
but things had changed. War
had broken out, and I don't
mean Vietnam —

I'd had enough
of his hands
upon the body
of my psyche
and the direction
they'd pointed me in
on life's road.

This time, when he started
to shout at me, 'You stupid...! '
I had some leverage,
two powerful words:
'I quit! '

I pulled the tie off my neck
the way a man
whose death sentence
has just been commuted
might pull off a noose,

went straight
to the swimming pool
at my friend Michael's,
and dove in.

A few days later I drove
with my girl friend to Chicago
to visit a buddy there,

marvelling all the way
at the green and gold quilt
of the Illinois fields
like some real-world Oz
and at the rivers our land
is laden with.

I thought, 'My God,
this beats pounding
sidewalks in the hot sun! '
and vowed to find a way
to make a life and living
filling my eyes
with such wonders.

Back in St. Louis,
dad kicked me out of the house.
Every inch of the property
became turf in a power struggle.
I'd stop by to visit mom
and he'd start screaming again.
We'd wage war
right there on the front lawn.

Armed with the knowledge that I
could hurt him and had, I groped
toward an abstract pattern of light
like someone coming
up from under water,

my body feeling
my own for the first time.

Submitted: Sunday, April 15, 2007
Edited: Monday, February 14, 2011

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  • Delilah Miller (4/15/2007 1:06:00 PM)

    And then you became a phenomenal writer. But I guess we never stop trying to show our parents what we can do without them. I adore this poem. Hope you keep writing

    Xs and Os (Report) Reply

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