THE QUESTION

 

Sitting in my therapist’s waiting room,

I recite the number 42. He always asks

how old I am, testing my cognition,

at the most inopportune moment,

right when I’m on the verge of

a breakthrough, derailing my train

of thought and startling me enough

that I fumble for the answer.

I’m lying; I’ve never been close to

such an epiphany, don’t know what one

would feel like. Would confetti flutter

from the ceiling, one of those floppy

men my daughter likes inflate outside

the window? Would Miss North Carolina,

in regal evening dress, wheel in a cake

with a picture of me, smiling, on it,

or of my parents, looking bemused at how

many sessions it’s taken me to realize

it isn’t all about them? Each week,

I think I’m ready for the question

but am caught in my tracks—a lot

of train references in a poem that claims

not to be about my father, the Lionel Man.

I once knocked a locomotive from a display

shelf, showing off at ping-pong. My father

charged in, surveyed the pieces, and said,

Do you know what that cost?

In retrospect, I do know the answer: 42.

 

Matthew Duffus has received graduate degrees in English and creative writing from the University of Mississippi and the University of Minnesota, and his poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, including Slant, Main Street Rag, and Common Ground Review. He is an instructor of English and writing center director at Gardner-Webb University, in Boiling Springs, NC.

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