I saw them on the sidewalk, man and wife and little girl,
and, like the rightful man I am, I smiled
at the little girl's sweet innocence,
and glanced at the man;
he wore a workman's cap, his body had the look
of muscle that has learned
the lean, hard lesson of the bone;
he saw me there,
a young old man, standing by the library door,
and something in my gaze gained his respect;
he nodded once, as to an equal;
I nodded back, the single nod that honors:
I saw that those he walked with
had the gift of all he had;
and, suddenly, I knew
his wife's fear for his fragile, sweet, tough frame,
and her treasure, in the rightness of his way.
I saw in him, born of his love for them,
the fire inside, eternal:
the will indomitable, that would not swerve
from its sweet choice of sheltering,
though nightmare come;
that, in the end, would interpose itself, as shield
against that cold, relentless wind
that blows flesh, hope, the very bone away.
Sweet chariot of flame,
this golden passion of the clay:
My child, I give me: I am yours forever;
My Darling! though the world should pass away.
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Published on February 2006
What A Man Is