Gordon Purkis – “At the Dinner Table “ – A Chapbook

At the dinner table

At the dinner table
I learned to be gripped by fear,
nurtured and cozened by fear,
asked to come in and stay awhile
by fear and for decades I never left
its faithful side and it did likewise.
We were kin, like fire and smoke.

What child doesn’t want to
be free from family bonds while holding hands,
saying a kind of grace that means
absolutely nothing in the eyes
of anyone?

I don’t know who you people are
is what my child’s mind said to the
person who would one day become me.

I was already starting to disappear,
thinner than the slice of love we had for dessert.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table hardly anyone ever spoke.
We often ate with tears in our eyes
as a Saturday afternoon let go a great big sigh
and wiped snot on its 4 o’clock sleeves.
We were all tormented.
Hell was real but still far away.

We had to expect this every week but
none of us ever did. We were mad with
shouting. The alcohol was winning, driving,
thriving. It led a shameless parade around
the bull ring of our house and
just a few more minutes described the hours
leading up to the time when lunch or dinner
or whatever it was called finally made its
way into being.

Years later I would more or less duplicate the pattern.
Demonic possession some say.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t shake it.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table, we all needed a reason to be there
other than the food because we didn’t know we
were hungry even if we were. We were there to see if there
might be a way to get along for once, if only for an hour.

There was so much sensitivity in the air I got
drunk on it long before I touched my first drink.
We were willful, sloppy people who never caught
a break and what a bad week it was and where was
God during all this?

Somewhere in a great big building with candles
that seemed to stay magically lit and never burned out.

Somewhere with shoeless statues and people
who smelled like cabbage.

The dark bristling of a black wool coat.
A four-fingered hand reaching out in peace.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table, I never asked questions.
If I didn’t know the answer
I should’ve known it, so I dug deep and made
it up as I went along. I was often wrong but
chalked it up to it being your fault.

I wasn’t an angry kid per se, but if I could I
would’ve punched Jesus in the face for even
suggesting I had to live any other way than
the one that I was living. Thanks for all your
help
, I’d say, but I didn’t ask for any of this.

When there are no such things as alternatives,
miracles sound like a bad joke. I lived on absolutely
nothing. Mine eyes focused on the pond scum at the
corner of the lake while the beauty the breadth and
weight of all of heaven was lost on me or gobbled
up in the vacuum cleaner like Chewbacca’s bowcaster.

Where were the professionals and their opinions then?

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table Mom oft said
clean up your act for heaven’s sake.

I didn’t really care what heaven
thought deep down inside. All the
threats religion made were
never enough for me to see
the point in flying right.

Suffer, but endure.
Sicken and die, but accept it with grace.

If the poor old nuns could see me now though,
on that spiritual path, not believing as they
would have me do but
no longer bankrupted and guilt-tripped out
in the cold by a holier-than-thou
pulpit of lack care.

If they could only see me now: tuned into
the secret that none of them would share,
that I had to get well to be better,
that I had to be human to be an angel.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table we never talked of mirth,
we talked about the bones in the fish,
mom saying don’t talk with your mouth full
or you’ll choke.

We never talked about God
and it’s no wonder why—
not that there wasn’t a seat
for him but perhaps we were afraid to invite him.

We never talked about God
because none of us thought even he
could take the sadness away.

We were too busy hiding from each
other and ourselves to really enjoy
a single breath in any of the days
we spent together.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table you didn’t ask
and you didn’t tell
and it was at the dinner table was where I learned that there
was no place to hide between heaven
and hell, what the spiritualists say
is the human-born-a-poet condition,
clothed in excess and devout only to self,
devoid of real love, no real vim nor vigor
just plenty of words to go around.

It ought to have cheapened the experience methinks.

At least you were given those, though,
though you cast even them up
for judgment by another other than
yourself.

At least you were given those, though.
At least you were given those.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table is where I learned
how to become a perfectionist.

When things were always more or less
wrong it seemed somewhat normal.

When things were especially wrong is
when it really started to sink in that
life is not fair but that it should be.

I mean it should be fairer for some
than others, and when I say some I
mean me.

There was Jesus up on the wall
and my tired old folks below
with me in the middle:
more wounded
than anybody I knew.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table I squirmed like
a fish caught in St. Peter’s net
and I thought is this the best we
can do with our lives, sitting together
and feeling uncomfortable and wishing
we could hide?

How did other families seem to do
things so well and ours was just
doomed from the start?

Looking at it now, I don’t see how
I ever made it to today.
But I see the road that led me here
quite clearly now,
for it was the one I took, not the
one I was given.

I did a heaven’s worth of sinning
for all the right reasons and found
myself right where I am.

I introduce myself to me every day
and he just says hi and smiles.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table stars fizzled out,
grand atrocities were committed in
distant galaxies, real heroes existed
but they were someplace else,
someplace far off.

Why did the world have to be
round?
I asked myself. I kind of
wished Columbus was more wrong
than he was – as it turns out he
was right by accident, expos-facto,
which never really is the same
as being right from the start.

I know I wanted to be right
more than anything in the world.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table
we never spoke of mirth,
we were, instead, made
weary of bones in our fish,
a valid reason to not talk at all,
to just chew and be quiet.

The bones were somehow
put there as another test
of faith or a trap or snare
of mother nature to prolong
hunger and shorten life.

We never talked about God—
that he could do miraculously
small miracles like someday
remove almost all the sadness—
not the part that’s real of course,
just the other, the lie that I believed
that told me there was no where to
hide between heaven and hell.

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table,
there was no room for encouragement,
for following your own path, your own
map.

This is what it’s like as well as the cause
for all of it: you don’t know who you are
and when someone starts telling you who
you should be you figure it’s what you
do: take it on, become someone else’s
story, don’t think it abnormal and don’t
even think about asking God what it
is that you need to do with your life
because all you’ll hear is an empty
song,
divided between your sane and your
mad self
and guess whose voice is louder?

**

At the dinner table

At the dinner table, we never said grace
because there was none.
It seemed an empty, lonely world—
the one I was thrown into without
any way, it seemed, of dealing with it properly.

The Church had their moral code but
I couldn’t decipher nor apply it to everyday situations.
It was still too good, at that point, to need one anyway.

And today I still can’t spare any regrets over any of it.
I see now that I had to become lost before I could be found.

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