First Beer

Kid’s bangs blending with tall grass, we watched
Them cross the lot, some stumbling already, brush
Aside the door, entering a place that wanted
No part of us. What went on in there?
We wondered and wished we could know and better
Than know. The red slab swung wide then slammed,
And like the little match girl’s lit up reverie
We glimpsed them, wide backs inert as stone, each bent
Like Rodin’s Thinker, mesmerized by a glass.
We giggled like girls with our Vienna voices,
Like bells at an even greater distance
And Sibby shifted on his groaning high chair
And shouted wide mouthed and generous as a man
Could afford to be with adversaries that small.
What went on in there? The fact was we had
The facts, and they made no sense like the sounds
From a piano when you bang on it
Because you’ve heard the music pour and hate
That you can’t make it. Once in the lull before
The factories emptied he played baseball cards
By our rules, matching color or team,
Winner take all, Sibby like a human
Cerberus, one thick-necked dog face enough.
The only time he let us in the place
Hadn’t opened, a barren marvel, the mopped
Still spotted floor light flung itself across,
The damp bar filling the room like that table
In the butcher shop where they divvied up
What we would never have recognized
In the soft white paper our mothers brought home.
That was the summer he flew to Saigon,
The summer at a clam bake in Maine
I sipped my father’s beer, because he let me
And because I wanted to more than anything,
Took the bitter plunge, just so I could say I did.

                                                          —David Moolten

About these ads
32 comments
  1. poetryaboutart said:

    from Therese — A powerful coming-of-age poem with vivid images of the rawness of hunched men at bars, butchery, beer and clams. Repetition in this poem is present but unobtrusive, irregular instead of regular. I see some repetition of vowels and consonants at the ends of words, more-or-less repeating number of beats per line, some alliteration. I also see a kind of macro-repetition, a repetition related to the overarching theme of the poem: boys wanting to repeat, to mimic, the behavioirs of their fathers. That is, the poem itself is “about” the repetition of human nature.

    • Hi Therese,

      Thank you for your thorough and generous reading of this. As always, I greatly appreciate your patience and insight.

      Best, David

  2. Mark said:

    A story I believe many men will identify with. I vividly remember wanting to try beer, long before my dad would allow me to, then being quite unimpressed.

    I enjoyed your poem, the structure and flow.

    • Thank you Mark. It’s one of those universal experiences, I guess, always a little ambivalent.

  3. I remember it well. Great words on youth becoming man.

  4. Another great one. I love the comparison with with trying to play the piano. Trying to remember an analogy from Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim, comparing something to a deaf person watching people dance.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thank you for your generous take. I like that image, a deaf person watching people dance. Happy holidays.

  5. djvorreyer said:

    Love the strong and unique descriptions – “giggled like girls with our Vienna voices” is really lovely and I love the bar as the butchering table, a place that creates strange, mysterious things we don’t recognize when they are at home.

  6. David, I love the way you capture the boy’s fascination with those symbols of secret-society-like adulthood: the bar and drinking beer.

    Like Rodin’s Thinker, mesmerized by a glass.

    I love the way the iconic image is reflected in the drinking workmen.

    Sibby like a human
    Cerberus, one thick-necked dog face enough.

    Your use of mythology, tying the rough features of Sibby to the guard dog of Hades is a brilliant touch.

    like that table
    In the butcher shop where they divvied up
    What we would never have recognized
    In the soft white paper our mothers brought home.

    Nice the similarity in dissimilarity between the butcher shop and the bar – and tensely poignant in the light of the Sibby’s departure for Vietnam.

    Another fine poem, David, that I enjoyed reading very much.

    Happy Holidays!

    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for going through the poem with such detail, and for your comments, generous as always.

  7. wayne said:

    remember for sure……how could i forget…forget…forget…..thanks for sharing this and have a wonderful christmas my friend…cheers

  8. Yes David, another fine poem from you. A sober yet so evocative, touching painting of two worlds becoming one. Or wanting to be. And that near understated tension of desire, seen almost with adult eyes as it were, yet a child’s desire. What a lovely blending this poem weaves.

    Your poems take some serious or sincere attention, yet always a labor well rewarded!

    “We wondered and wished we could know and better
    Than know.” Crystal clear intent!
    “We glimpsed them, wide backs inert as stone, each bent
    Like Rodin’s Thinker, mesmerized by a glass.” So much in one image!

    “The facts, and they made no sense like the sounds
    From a piano when you bang on it
    Because you’ve heard the music pour and hate
    That you can’t make it.” And there’s childhood’s awkward wishing stance, clear as a bell, or the piano note that isn’t.

    Masterful imagery.

    • Hi Neil,

      Thank you for your comments, detailed, generous, and well thought out as always. Happy holidays.

  9. A wonderful piece. The transition beyond childhood speaks finely above the perfect repetition. The final line is very powerful.

  10. Cynthia Short said:

    As usual, you do a perfect “memory poem”. I especially liked the bit about the piano. Wanting so badly to play, and not being able to….

  11. Really well-crafted as always. It draws me right into the scene, as if I was one of the kids waiting outside the bar. There are a number of memorable lines, but my favorite passage was

    The fact was we had
    The facts, and they made no sense like the sounds
    From a piano when you bang on it
    Because you’ve heard the music pour and hate
    That you can’t make it.

    I also know that feeling from writing poetry :).

  12. Irene said:

    This to me, is really about a prelude, the bar as jump off point for Vietnam and manhood. For a boy, war and manhood seems intertwined somehow. To wit, my son and his father bonding over war movies. That, and drinking alcohol. What’s with you men?! Is this what macho is about?
    Sorry David for the rant. A fine poem. But I wanted to say something more because what you wrote was absolutely true. I’m looking on as a mother as usual.

    • Thank you Irene for your comments, and kind praise. No apology necessary–my poem was a lament of what happens between boys and men, how that close friendship that boys have goes away, and the aloof distance that’s often there in mature men and the hard facade and the violence it tolerates.

  13. Vivid and descriptive as always. “The fact was we had/The facts, and they made no sense like the sounds/From a piano when you bang on it/Because you’ve heard the music pour and hate/That you can’t make it.” seized me the most. The idea of sneaking in, trying to observe, and wondering at the forbidden. Excellent job.

    -Nicole

    • Nicole thank you for your kind and insightful take on my poem

  14. karen said:

    I am amazed at the apt descriptions of that world between childhood and adulthood. Your images place us there with you, and it is a wonderful trip back. The repetition here is quite subtle. Well done!

  15. I enjoy how descriptive your poetry is. I also like how you tell your story. The flavor of it and the way that I feel I am in the butcher shop with you and your mother, in the bar giggling, and sipping my first beer at a clam bake. I feel at the end that I know who Sibby is, just as I know the backs of those men drinking their beers.
    -Roberta

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers

%d bloggers like this: