"All my favorite singers couldn’t sing. / All my favorite singers couldn’t sing."
Steve Henn teaches high school English in northern Indiana. He’s the author of several books including Guilty Prayer, Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year, and his most recent chapbook, American Male, published by Main Street Rag in February 2022. Steve's the proud father of his children with the late American artist Lydia Henn. He loves crab cakes, playing records, and he gives poetry readings in all kinds of places.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Steve joins us long distance from his classroom. Welcome, Steve. What have you brought for us today?
Loss or One for Josh Wildman
Most of the big moments
are moments of loss. A father
dies. A child is penalized.
In my senior year we went
to penalty kicks in the quarterfinals
against the Blue Blazers. Coach
named me an unlikely addition
to the first five, for
in practices I nailed lower left
side netting goal after goal precisely,
left leg like a piston. Like a machine.
In the real PKs I booted and
the ball sailed between the field
goal posts above and beyond the
soccer goal. There it vanished.
My moment of glory. Like a duck
dying in flight. Before I kicked
a teammate interrupted my lone walk
from midfield to the spot, getting
in my face to say whatever you do,
don’t kick it over. And so I never tell
this story without including him.
This is the way of loss. Of failure.
It helps to have someone to blame.
How in God’s Holy Name is
This Boy Ever Going to Survive?
I am training myself not to
panic at the sight of bumblebees.
One came curious at the odor
of my gas station fountain Coke.
It tensed me, anxious, here in the back
yard, but I didn’t bolt.
I’d call this a victory but how dumb.
How maladapted I am to the most natural
occurrences. Can they even sting?
I don’t even know. Stupid.
One chased me around the house
when I was a child. Real memory.
Can’t remember why. Maybe my hands
were sticky with popsicle.
It was always popsicle time in the 80s. Always
time to bike up to the Kroger for an “off-brand”
Big K pop. Once, a friend and I walked home
through several harrowing experiences.
A dog that chased us through the cemetery;
teenagers in the woods,
one of whom grabbed me by the biceps
and shouted what are you doing here?!
in my face. Earlier, in my first-ever visit
to the Boys Club, I’d had a basketball
thrown at my face with that old
“think fast” maneuver. Then I cried,
which undercut any possibility of
establishing “alpha male” status
in that vast Lord of the Flies gene pool
of feral 8-to-13-year-olds, one scarce adult male
popping bubblegum loudly in a near barren
side room called “the office.” That’s about all
it took. Entering the back porch door
through the screened in porch to the tv room
I burst into tears, my dad immediately (so
it seems in memory) incredulous with anger.
That can’t be it! He shouted – shouted,
as I blubbered through an explanation
that failed to capture how afraid I’d gotten,
at me, or maybe at my sister, or at my mom.
That can’t be all that happened! he persisted
(voice cracking) to my terrifying weakness.
The Dad Rules
Because he is paying the mortgage
he is allowed to walk around inside
his house in only a t shirt and boxers
When they reach the height of the handle
his young must be trained to push
Never speak of the era in which
he drank beer after beer after beer
Lightning can’t strike you while
observing the spectacle of a thunderstorm
from the front porch
if you’re next to a dad
Avoid even bringing up
the clogged gutters
There are many balls in the backyard
and he will show you how to throw
each of them
No, you may not shoot
the BB gun at aluminum cans
for the BBs are travelling
all the way across the yard
hitting the neighbor’s house
He wishes you might ask
about the book he’s reading
sitting in his camper chair
in the backyard
but you never do
Fast food cheeseburgers from
a place about a mile away if
you do a good job cleaning
out the car
He refuses to feel ashamed
driving the minivan. He quit
The old couple two houses
down find him pleasant
to speak with
He leaves the outside lights on
when the teens aren’t yet home
He is always keeping watch
His phone is always right next to him
The Spirit Moving Through Me
I could never live here my brother
said, inviting me into a pastel rental
among pastel rentals backed up on
a man-made lake not 200 yards
from Lake Michigan. I said
a man-made lake not 200 yards
from Lake Michigan. It’s a diff-
erent breed of person he claimed,
and it’s true my brother and I don’t
come from money, from ease.
Everything, to him, has been a
competition, usually with himself, as
they say of golf. He wanted retirement
by 50 and got it. Wanted a half
basketball court in his basement
and dug it out, laid it in, the house temp-
orarily quivering on stilts. No one
engineers the perfect life. He bore the death
of his wife from cancer, shakey-
voicing the eulogy. I looked about
the church he attends 3 hours away—
all Catholic churches labor to set
the same scene – and I almost
remembered when I was so young
that I found the mystery of the stained
glass and the faint odor of incense
comforting. But it has been very long
since that God puzzled over us.
Once, in 3rd grade, I sang so loudly
at mass after my best friend moved
away that our teacher touched me
on the shoulder, said, Stephen,