PoetMay 23, 1939 - January 17, 2013
Jack McCarthy featured at the FlagSlam Semi-Final Slam on April 12, 2005. I remember he was quiet and gracious and delivered poetry in an unassuming, yet profound way.
He died Jan. 17, 2013, at the age of 73.
"He weaves wicker stories that creep slowly down the back stairs of your memory. He talks to you in your own voice." - Jim Dunn
This is still my favorite of McCarthy's poems, which can probably be said by slam poets around the country.
Careful What You Ask For
From "Actual Grace Notes," poems from 1996 to 2000
I was just old enough
to be out on the sidewalk by myself,
and every day I would come home crying,
beaten up by the same little girl.
I was Jackie, the firstborn,
the apple of every eye,
gratuitous meanness bewildered me,
and as soon as she'd hit me,
I'd bawl like a baby.
I knew that boys were not supposed to cry,
but they weren't supposed to hit girls either,
and I was shocked when my father said,
"Hit her back."
I thought it sounded like a great idea,
but the only thing I remember
about that girl today
is the look that came over her face
after I did hit her back.
She didn't cry; instead
her eyes got narrow and I thought,
"Jackie, you just made a terrible mistake,"
and she really beat the crap out of me.
It was years before I trusted my father's advice again.
I eventually learned to fight--
enough to protect myself--
but the real issue was the crying,
and that hasn't gone away.
Oh, I don't cry any more, I don't sob, I don't make
noise, I just have hairtrigger tearducts, and always
at all the wrong things: Tom Bodett saying, "We'll leave
the light on for ya;" I cry at the last scene of
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
In movies I despise the easy manipulation
that never even bothers to engage my feelings,
it just comes straight for my eyes,
but there's not a damn thing I can do about it,
and I hate myself for it.
The surreptitious noseblow a discreet
four minutes after the operative scene;
my daughters are on to me, my wife;
they all know exactly when to give me that quick,
sidelong glance. What must they think of me?
In real life I don't cry any more
when things hurt. Never a tear at seventeen
when my mother died, my father.
I never cried for my first marriage.
But today I often cry when things turn out well:
an unexpected act of simple human decency;
new evidence, against all odds,
of how much someone loves me.
I think all this is why I never wanted a son.
I always supposed my son would be like me,
and that when he'd cry it would bring back
every indelible humiliation of my own life,
and in some word or gesture
I'd betray what I was feeling,
and he'd mistake, and think I was ashamed of him.
He'd carry that the rest of his life.
Daughters are easy: you pick them up,
you hug them, you say, "There there.
Everything is going to be all right."
And for that moment you really believe
that you can make enough of it right
enough. The unskilled labor of love.
And if you cry a little with them for all
the inevitable gratuitous meannesses of life,
that crying is not to be ashamed of.
But for years my great fear was the moment
I might have to deal with a crying son.
But I don't have one.
We came close once, between Megan and Kathleen;
the doctors warned us there was something wrong,
and when Joan went into labor they said
the baby would be born dead.
But he wasn't: very briefly,
before he died, I heard him cry.
Copyright © Jack McCarthy