~This poem was originally published in Shenandoah (2009)
Fear of Giants
After Diane Arbus’s photograph, “A Jewish Giant at Home
with His Parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970”
Rabbi Mueller stopped calling him Samson
when my son at ten looked down on me.
By twelve, he’d torn the tightening collar
of school, and I saw his future frown.
Last week, Bart’s Deli named him worker
of the month. He stocks the highest shelves.
Now we wait, our evening service, as he steps
in from the job, conquers the door with his cane,
his limp. My wife’s hands nest on the ledge
of her hips, her mouth’s delighted “o” telling
him, telling me, of her triumph, that this Titan
began in her. I look straight at his waist,
hands moling my pockets for dark. Myths
have come and gone since I brushed his hair
while he stood. Tonight, I sit by his brow,
surveying the baffling terrain of his face,
and muster a waning affection.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s a link to the Arbus photograph.]
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
This is an ekphrastic poem based on a photograph by Diane Arbus (whose brother, for those who might not know, was the poet Howard Nemerov). This particular poem began in a workshop when R. T. Smith, the workshop leader, instructed his students to spend time with a photograph and write a poem arising from that time of contemplation. Before that exercise, I had never written an ekphrastic poem and knew nothing of Arbus. I learned that photography and other visual arts provide a way to step out of my own experience and frame of reference, to step away from the almighty “me.” In “Fear of Giants,” the speaker is the father, and considering what circumstances the members of this family might encounter and the emotions that might arise in the father’s relationship with his wife and son opened imaginative possibilities that likely would not have arisen otherwise. Not all of my ekphrastic poems are successful, and even fewer are published, but photographs never fail to elicit an imaginative response in me that somehow finds its way to the page.
ABOUT PHILIP BELCHER
Philip Belcher has published poems in a variety of literary journals, including Shenandoah, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review and Valparaiso Poetry Review. New poetry is forthcoming in Passages North, and the most recent issue of The Southern Quarterly includes his essay on the response of southern white male poets to their cultural legacy of racism. In 2007, his chapbook, The Flies and Their Lovely Names, was published by Stepping Stones Press at the University of South Carolina. Philip is an Advisory and Contributing Editor for Shenandoah, and recent issues of that journal contain his critical prose. Philip is a graduate of Furman University, Southeastern Seminary, the Duke University School of Law, and Converse College (MFA). He currently serves as Vice President, Programs, of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina in Asheville, NC.