Duty Bound to Hold It Down

Harlem Dandy” by Miguel Covarrubias, 1927

I remember the day he left
and I became the man of the house.
I was four and duty bound to hold things down
while he joined the Army of my imagination.
That he was simply leaving was lost on me.
A father’s leaving must augur some noble cause,
and I was duty bound to hold things down
until his return from imaginary war.

I still hear my mother cry, to me,
the newly appointed man of the house.
Beseech him to stay, I was told, and,
duty bound, to hold things down,
I obediently did as she commanded
the man of the house, still mama’s little boy.

He left, strongly silent, as a good soldier must
departing with an air of French indifference.
Legionnaire, foreign to responsibility, he
wandered the deserts of sociopathy, and
was heard from rarely, though stories were told
of his misfortune spent
on the wrong side of the betting window.

I, young man of the house, duty bound,
to hold it down,
did not weep for him save once,
upon a camel’s back cleverly disguised as a grey hound.
We were visiting his emotional desert, my cloak
around my sister’s heart. He waved as we rode
into the desert sunset, with the sands of
insincerity stinging our tearing eyes.

I left the concrete birthing ground for an earthy land
of pointy cars and cobbled walks. A man not yet six,
and no longer conscripted into his army,
I did not celebrate my freedom. Instead,
obedient soldier, still duty bound to hold it down
I spent my youth being not him.

However, I have found,
is a thing one cannot be for long,
and I can no longer be not him
as in so doing, I have always been not myself.

As I approach my waning years
I must look in dusty mirrors, and
find the boy I was, soldier, self-conscripted,
duty bound, to hold it down, and
give him his release. Honorably discharged,
young soldier, breathe the late summer’s air.
For winter comes, young lad, it surely comes,
as leaves turn to dust and ash.
You are not him no more,
but, simply, yourself, and
finally, duty bound, to hold it down
no more.

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