Two Poems by Tad Tuleja

Stout Heart

“Real men don’t cry,” he heard them say when he
Was six, and the boy, fallen, took it straight
To heart, wanting to please and not to be
Mistaken for a girl. And so his fate
Was sealed. He made a garden in his heart
Where every sadness blossomed into stone.
He shrouded it behind an oak rampart
And when he fell he went to it alone.
Impassively he watered it with tears
Invisible. This pantomime of strength
Became his shield. In vanquishing his fears
He exiled tenderness so that at length
He found himself the sovereign of a land
Where even silent grief was contraband.


A lone beam of sunlight, javelin straight,
Breaks from a cloud to irradiate our garden.
The paraphernalia of work are suddenly luminous.
Wheelbarrow, rake, gloves for a moment aglow
While a trowel, eater of soil, flings back a flash,
Blinding me like I’ve been punched by a
Phosphorus fist. Watching the beam emerge
From the riven cloud, I recall Victorian tableaux
Like the finger of God steadying Jacob’s ladder
Or comforting Jesus in Gethsemane as Peter
Denies him. Was it such a beam that made Paul
Stumble or augured a victory for Christ at the
Milvian Bridge? Things that drop from the sky
Suggest origins wondrous. In this garden, though,
I see only tools: wheelbarrow, rake, gloves,
That specular trowel. Things of the brilliant earth,
Pointing only to themselves. But in the sweep
Of the visible, wondrous enough.

Tad Tuleja is a Texas-based folklorist and songwriter with interests in the Hollywood Western, honor cultures, and the mythology of violence. He has edited anthologies on vernacular traditions and military culture and received a Puffin Foundation grant for his song cycle “Skein of Arms.” He has a weekly podcast and performs songs under the musical alias Skip Yarrow.

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