Strikes Often

Men are struck by lightning five times as often as women.

—news item

Taller, of course,
more foolhardy, more’s
the fool, and more likely
to have forgotten an umbrella,
to be out walking and fail to notice
rain assailing our unprotected
lives the way your love can if we
let it, but that alone can’t explain
why our lives are in jeopardy,
why we take the chances no
one would reasonably assume
we should, not in this life
with all its teeth and broken glass.

Montreal haunts us the way livers
do drunks. Sick and complaining,
they insist we somehow are at fault,
we who take all the chances,
who put ourselves ahead
of whatever comes, that we brought
it on ourselves, and maybe we did.
Say something often enough
and even the liar starts to believe
it, let alone the altar boys,
lip syncing the litany, big boys
don’t cry, rats’ tails and snails,
that’s what boys are made of.

When it does strike, lightning,
it doesn’t do it twice but over
and over again till we’ve got
the drill in our sleep, dreams
blossoming up like fish surfacing
with bubbles for kisses, till
the choices dry up, even the few
we started with. The house
is in darkness, the children
asleep, your breath steady as tide
on the pillow, the owl silent
in its tree, We lie awake,
listening for thunder.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Strikes Often”?

“Strikes Often” is another of my poems inspired by something I saw in the news: a brief item (used as an epigram to start the poem) that men are five times as likely as women to be hit by lightning. I guess you could say that the poem came to me as a bolt of lighting or inspiration—but that’s the way most poems come to me, and, I suspect, most other poets—out of the blue. The creative process remains, for me, at least, a mystery.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Strikes Often”?

The poem begins by responding, playfully, to the epigram, listing some of the reasons why men might be hit by lightning more often. Then it takes a turn by referring to the Montreal massacre (Dec. 6, 1989), which had occurred not long before I wrote the poem: a man supposedly disgruntled by feminism murdered 14 women students at an engineering school. That reference allows the poems to go deeper and become more serious, morphing into a reflection on masculinity and the role of men in the modern world.

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