Charles O. Hartman

The Minefield and Uncanny Daddy
February 21, 2024 Hartman Charles O.

The Minefield




In the hospital after so strangely
and to his chagrin not dying,
my father scrawled me a note.
In the night, his feet
being cold, he had written
(presumably on that same pad)
to ask the nurse for sox,
and she had patiently explained
that sex was not among her duties.
Puzzling out his writing,
I could tell he thought this
a very funny joke on himself.
Not up to sharing it
like a buddy at the end of the War
in Germany not far
from his ancestors’ village
where the two of them, lost,
slept exhausted on a hillside
which morning revealed
as a minefield, I could only ask,
Who but a ball team
spells it with an x?





That night
I turn on the television
and see him on a panel
to discuss trigger-squeeze.
He can’t talk,


and the moderator
fidgets and glances at the camera.
A commercial extols
the taste of whale steak:
like butter. When we come back


the lights gleam from the wheels and rails
of his mobile office.
On my own ill-engineered stool
I straighten a paperclip
more and more precisely.





My father’s stroke—which left his mind
alone, froze half his body, took
his walk—stole him and left behind
a statue to my father’s look,


my father’s voice. In school we learned
to call this irony. The grim
vision that calls it just, well-earned,
inevitable, I learned from him.


He’d say to say God struck him dumb—
not countless cigarettes and seas
of coffee—would be to succumb
to comforting hypotheses.


In another dream sonhood invokes:
I burst in out of anywhere
to rattle off a chain of jokes
and dance around his silver chair.



Uncanny Daddy


When you were three
for reasons lost to time
I shaved off beard and mustache,


and when I came downstairs
you smiled
the way you still do
at strangers, till I said


something and you caught my voice
and burst into tears.
Alien is OK
until it springs


from behind someone you knew.
It was almost another
year before I left. Kiddo,
it was never you.

Charles O. Hartman has published eight collections of poetry, including Downfall of the Straight Line (Arrowsmith Press, forthcoming 2024), as well as books on jazz and song (Jazz Text, Princeton 1991) and on computer poetry (Virtual Muse, Wesleyan 1996). His Free Verse (Princeton 1981) is still in print (Northwestern 1996), and Verse: An Introduction to Prosody was published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2015. In 2020 he co-edited, with Martha Collins, Pamela Alexander, and Matthew Krajniak, a volume on Wendy Battin for the Unsung Master series. He is Poet in Residence Emeritus at Connecticut College. He plays jazz guitar.