Dan Pinkerton


I’m landlocked, tethered, riveted by some
game I’ve never heard of, guys in Speedos
agitating a pool, trying to toss

a volleyball through a net. I always
thought this contest was cooked up by my eighth
grade gym coach, yet here it is on primetime,

starring a crew of husky undergrads
from Stanford, amid ads for Coke Zero
and restless leg remedies. The summer

Olympiad, and I’m avoiding my
mother. I’ve failed in my filial bonds
again, this time through inaction. After

I went AWOL, my father tried to mow
the yard himself, a non-sanctioned contest
that left him in spasms. I feel ugly

for being branded by guilt—and, I guess,
for being a bad seed. My suggestion
that my parents get a goat now seems gauche,

maybe even “got their goat.” So I turn
back to this synchronized water soccer
or whatever, soaking myself in it,

able to feel both reprehensible
on a private level while misty-eyed
with pride for my swim-suited countrymen.


My name became freighted, oblique, dumb,
the clattering on my teeth and tongue
a hammer drawing forth a sword-edge.

The handle was how people held fast,
and I could feel their grip loosening.
I lost weight, became veined and brittle,

was handed an album of photos
allegedly of me which I burned
that same day in the fire. I began

wiping my fingerprints from every
surface. Yet people kept sharing with
me the cruel ligatures of their lives,

the rip currents, the infirmities,
as though these were remarkable gifts.
By way of reply I read numbers

from a screen, a prosperity code
no one had solved. This did not salve
many wounds or win many fresh friends

but I was paid handsomely for it—
so handsomely, in fact, that I grew
contemptuous of the jeweled face

staring me down, spewing its numbers
as I held the blade to its jaw. It
was not my own, you must believe me.


Dan Pinkerton lives in Des Moines, Iowa. Poems of his have appeared in New Orleans Review, Boston Review, Indiana Review, Subtropics, Willow Springs, and Sonora Review, among others.