Knots

It’s never easy being a young child. Everything is brand new. It’s not as if you’ve already done any of the things you’re now expected to do for the first time. You’re brand new on the planet. You’ve never done any of these things before. Or even if you have tried to do some of these things before — the small things, especially — some maybe for the second or third or fourth time, it still can be tricky. And unsettling. And frustrating. Especially when someone is watching you, and not just watching you, but glaring at you, judging you, ridiculing you, finding you wanting.

Especially if that person is your parent, especially if he’s your father — and you’re his son, who’s supposed to grow up to be strong and brave and independent and competent.

You are the genetic result of this man’s spent sperm and now you must learn quickly to live up to his high opinion of himself or his fierce opinion of the man he wanted to be but never became. And now you must begin to become both better than he is and yet, for the sake of his ego, not as good. And above all, you must never embarrass him or the family name.

Which means you must never fail at anything and you must, especially, never walk around with untied shoes.

And the fear of never getting it right, of never tying your shoelaces tight enough so that they stay tied all day, follows you like a curse, like a genetic defect. And so does the memory of your father’s anger when you bungled the tying of your shoes back when you were just a small boy.

And that memory stays with you long after you have grown into an adult who keeps trying to find his way in the world — to be strong and brave and independent and competent — without tripping over his shoe laces, without entangling himself in doubts about his father’s love.

If you’re a man named Joseph Stroud, one day you write a poem about all of this, even though you know that deep down a poem is at best a pantomime.

Knots

by Joseph Stroud

Trying to tie my shoes, clumsy, not able to work out
the logic of it, fumbling, as my father stands there,
his anger growing over a son who can’t even do
this simplest thing for the first time, can’t even manage
the knot to keep his shoes on—You think someone’s
going to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life?
No, I answer, forty-five years later, tying my shoe,
hands trembling with this memory. My father
and all those years of childhood not being able to work out
how he loved me, a knot so tight it has taken all my life
to untie.

(“Knots” by Joseph Stroud from Of This World. © Copper Canyon Press, 2009.)

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3 Comments on “Knots”

  1. RFM Says:

    What an awful burden parents must feel, that they must always be patient, kind, supportive, never short or unreasonable, for fear of imprinting a crippling memory on the brain of their offspring, or, worse yet, creating a genetic memory that generations down the line will make young men from here to eternity tremble as they tie their shoelaces. I am so glad I don’t have children.

  2. Vanessa Galligan Says:

    If parents would treat their children with the same love and patience and emotional generosity you show Johnny,the children would be happy and healthy and the parents would be guilt-free. The only down side would be the negative impact such happiness would have on the writing of poetry.


  3. […] “…That memory stays with you long after you have grown into an adult who keeps trying to find his way in the world — to be strong and brave and independent and competent — without tripping over his shoe laces, without entangling himself in doubts about his father’s love.”                          – V. Galligan, Knots […]


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