William Fargason

When My Father Calls Me a Pussy

it means get up      it means he doesn’t care
about the callous on my palm      or that I’m downwind
of the diesel fumes     it means swing harder      it means

I should feel     ashamed      that I stayed inside all day
playing my Game Boy      I should be proud of the mud
on my shins      kicked up by the four-wheeler

it means this gun      isn’t going to shoot itself      it means
how does he tell everyone      in his Sunday School class
that his son wants to quit baseball      again

which means      he tried      failed      might as well be
a woman      it means I’m not the son      he wanted
I’m the son he got      it means when I gut

the deer      I should start at the nutsack      I should skin it
myself      with the guthook of the folding knife
I sharpened      it means this is what it means      to be

a man      and not      a wilted daisy      it means this is what
I think a man should be      which is to say      an ax
stuck in an oak tree stump      it means he loves

not me      but the version of me      I could be
which is to say      not me      which is      a stone
it means if I want to burn this thing down      I have to

start at the roots      I have to use      my own two hands
which can be knives held one way      feathers another
it means this is what my father      taught me

which is      to hate myself      it means his father
taught him not to cry      when he shaved his head
on the porch those summers      the hair sticking

to his forehead like grass clippings      it means
this is how      one man      cuts down another
in an effort      notch for notch      to grow larger



Punch List, 1994

My father takes my hands and places them
on each joystick of the Bobcat. I’m too small

to reach the pedals, so his feet tip up the bucket
full of job site debris in the air above me.

I watch broken sheetrock hit two by fours
and crack apart like packed snow. It feels

triumphant to watch the scarred metal bucket
eclipse the high noon sun, the bucket’s teeth

slowly coming into view like a giant sea creature
rising out of the water next to a boat I am on

in the middle of the ocean with my father.
He is teaching me control, pull that lever

right there back, good, now turn the Bobcat left,
the machine jolting like a roller coaster

as it mounts its first incline. He is teaching me
power, and in these moments I can almost

forget how much he scared me, even then,
holding me in his lap beneath the pulled-down

safety bar. With each tip of the bucket
he is teaching me how to be him, to claim

a birthright of dirt and Tyvek, of Skoal
and Leatherman blades that sharpened

framer’s pencils behind the ears of men who speak
with the calluses on their hands like a clay tablet

of cuneiform in each handshake, of proving
something by what you’ve built or torn down.



William Fargason is the author of Love Song to the Demon-Possessed Pigs of Gadara (University of Iowa Press, April 2020), winner of the 2019 Iowa Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, Barrow Street, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Narrative, and elsewhere. He earned a BA in English from Auburn University, an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland, and a PhD in poetry from Florida State University, where he taught creative writing. He is the Assistant Poetry Editor at Split Lip. He lives with himself in Tallahassee, Florida.