Rough Boy by John Tustin

I’m a rough boy
But not a tough boy.

I won’t cry because I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas
But I will cry remembering how I sang to my boy when he was a baby
Sick with colic.
Walking back and forth that narrow hall beside the staircase
On our second floor,
Singing Danny Boy over and over but singing it
As Johnny Boy for him.
Whenever I stopped pacing or singing he would cry again.

My rough boy
Who has come to not be a tough boy.

So many times I sat in a single room and looked into a dusty mirror,
Seeing a rough boy but not a tough boy.
I’ve done this a thousand times when alone.
It never makes me cry, as many times as I have been degraded
Or a woman has made the choice to leave me alone here instead of staying.
Sitting before the dusty mirror,
Seeing a rough boy,
Knowing I am not a tough boy.

I won’t become enraged after the fiftieth casual indignation of the day.
In fact, I hardly notice anymore.
I sit placidly now thinking about how I have lost all I love
More than a single time
And still I wake up every morning
Even though sometimes I can’t get out of bed until afternoon.
I rage inside but I do not set the streets on fire.
My words are angry and tinged in the acid of continual betrayal
But my voice is soft.
I have given in. I have given up.
I curse a lot about it.
I am a rough boy
But not a tough boy.

The other night we were in bed together afterward
And I told you about that other time Johnny was sick as a baby
And I truly wanted to put his sickness and pain into me
If only it would make him well.
The one moment I was not a rough boy but a tough boy.
He woke up and smiled at me, his fever broken,
My little boy.
My little boy.
I told you and you told me that I was really all tenderness
And in the moment I believed I was
But now, in front of this mirror alone
I don’t think I am
But I am often rough and sometimes tender
And when toughness does not reside within
That has to be enough.

I’m a rough boy
But not a tough boy
And I wait impassively
For all the songs to maybe come true for me
Even if after I am dead.

Oh, Johnny boy,
The pipes, the pipes
Are calling….

 

——

See John Tustin’s poetry here.