Maxine Scates

Boy in a Hole
May 23, 2020 Scates Maxine

Boy in a Hole


The boy meant to help his father
but maybe his father took the boy down into the hole
because he knew he could not help, because he wanted
to teach him a lesson.  It was Saturday and the father
had gotten up early, had been digging for hours
in a hole he’d been digging for weeks though no one
knew why.  We’d come to watch.  The hole was deep,
by now as big as a small room and seemed twice
the height of the boy who was younger than us,
seven or eight, and for awhile flailed away
with his man-sized shovel.  When he stopped trying,
his father put his own shovel down and climbed
the ladder out of the hole, pulling it up behind him
so the boy could not follow.  He was a shy boy named
Ronnie, Ronnie Junior, maybe he limped, something
had always been wrong with him.  Ronnie’s father
was big, silent as all of the fathers were, and he seemed
to already know the boy could do nothing but disappoint him,
the way a man once said to us his dog was soft
when ours was giving us trouble, the man clearly wishing
for trouble.  Ronnie wanted out of the hole
as his father knew he would.  His father shouted down
he was a baby, glancing at us almost as if he had forgotten
we were watching though we were only children
who have since become adults who perhaps have stood idly
while a mother or father slaps or screams
at their crying kid in the checkout line.  Maybe
we’ve even done something like this ourselves.  Maybe
the boy had awakened early that morning eager to go down
into the hole because he knew nothing would make his father
happier than digging a hole with his boy, but there he was crying
and soon he was wailing he didn’t want to stay in the hole,
his red-faced father yelling he’d stay until he learned not to cry,
and only then did he turn and tell us to go though
now I think he let us stay as long as he did so his boy
would never be free of what we had seen.


Maxine Scates’ fourth book of poems, My Wilderness, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2021.  Her poems have been widely published in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ironwood, The New England Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Plume, Poetry Northwest, Poetry and The Virginia Quarterly Review and have received, among other awards, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry and two Pushcart Prizes.