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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 22, 2018.
About this Poem 

“When I roll up to a family party or visit relatives around the United States or back in the Philippines, an elder will often ask me, ‘Where is your girlfriend?’ or ‘You're not married yet?!’ (Insert the laughter of Filipinos here.) My life so often feels filled with affection and tenderness—certainly from my closest and dearest friends and beloveds, but also from and among strangers. I guess it is a kind of failure not to learn how to love and be loved, but I also think it's a kind of love to bear witness to love itself: to pay attention to it, especially in unlikely places and forms, to record it, to struggle to write love down so that it changes me. In that way, I feel an incredible sense of wealth.”

—Patrick Rosal

If All My Relationships Fail and I Have No Children Do I Even Know What Love Is

This fireman comes every afternoon
to the café on the corner
dressed for his shift in clean dark blues
This time       it’s the second Wednesday of January
and he’s meeting his daughter again
who must be five or six
and who is always waiting for her father like this
in her charcoal gray plaid skirt
with green and red stripes
She probably comes here straight from school
her glasses a couple nickels thick
By now I know     that she can sit       (except
for her one leg swinging from the chair)  
absolutely still      while her father pulls  	
fighters’ wraps from his work bag
and begins half way down the girl’s forearm
winding the fabric in overlapping spirals
slowly toward her fist           then     he props     	
her wrist      like a pro    on his own hand 
unraveling the black cloth   weaving it  	
between her thumb and forefinger
around the palm         	   taut but
not so much that it cuts off the blood          then
up the hand and between the other fingers
to protect the knuckles         the tough   	
humpback guppies just under the skin 	
He does this once with her left       then again
to her right  	To be sure her pops knows he has done
a good job    	she nods        Good job       Good	
Maybe you’re right              I don’t know what love is
A father kisses the top of his daughter’s head
and knocks her glasses cockeyed
He sits back and downs the last of the backwash
in his coffee cup         They got 10 minutes to kill
before they walk across the street 	  down the block
and out of sight         She wants to test
her dad’s handiwork            by throwing  
a couple jab-cross combos from her seat
There is nothing in the daughter’s face 	
that says     she is afraid    	
There is nothing in the father’s face      	
to say he is not                     He checks his watch        	
then holds up his palms    as if to show his daughter   	
that nothing is burning                     In Philadelphia
there are fires      I’ve seen those  in my lifetime too

Copyright © 2018 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Patrick Rosal

Patrick Rosal

Patrick Rosal is the author of Brooklyn Antediluvian (Persea Books, 2016), Boneshepherds (Persea, 2011), My American Kundiman (Persea, 2006), and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (Persea, 2003). He teaches at Rutgers University-Camden and lives in Philadelphia.

by this poet

When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ 
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.  
and I confess I’m looking 
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn 
is peeking into my third-floor window 
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed 
for three weeks before I slide 
from sink to stove in one long

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton