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Joseph Mills


After practice, my son kicks off his cleats
and leaves them under the front seat.
He treats the van like a storage locker,
draping his uniform and sweats around.
The daughter complains each morning
as I take her to school. The cleats smell.
Theyíre in her way. Itís not fair. I agree
with all of these points, and yet I donít
tell the son to move them. For one,
itís yet another argument Iím too tired
to have. There are already so many things
Iím prodding him about: homework,
showers, closing doors, drinking water Ö
and, to be honest, I kind of like them there,
this mark of the boy, these muddy talismans.
He used to hold my hand as he fell asleep,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
and once he pulled his fingers away,
picked his nose, then slid them back in my palm.
Yes, this is love, I thought then, holding snot
unflinchingly. Soon enough Iíll be able
to keep the van and the house and my life
clean, uncluttered; for now, I let him
leave his cleats there, in everyoneís way,
telling myself itís a type of civics lesson
about living together, telling my daughter,
ďI know, I know, itís annoying. Kind of like
when someone keeps pre-setting the stereo
buttons to all their favorite stations.Ē ďNo,
she says, ďNo. That is totally different.Ē

This poem first appeared in† Autumn Sky Poetry Review.
Used here with the author's permission.

Joseph Mills is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. Joe’s published work includes six volumes of poetry, and four nonfiction books. He also writes a column called “String Figures” for ChangeSeven Magazine in which he details his thoughts about trying to learn piano in middle-age. Learn more about Joe at


Post New Comment:
This poem is filled with love and understanding. Enjoy each day, each moment as it will not last forever. Simply lovely.
Posted 07/04/2018 08:04 AM
michael escoubas:
Every parent needs this poem! Thanks Jo.
Posted 06/11/2018 03:40 PM
Much wisdom herein. Well written. Ending an amusing bonus.
Posted 06/11/2018 01:51 PM
Such an understanding dad and also realizing how much one day you will miss those very things. Have to read about you learning piano in middle age. Will check that out.
Posted 06/11/2018 01:21 PM
Wonderful tone and understated ending.
Posted 06/11/2018 12:09 PM
Lori Levy:
Very loving. I like the lines about holding the child's fingers after he picked his nose!
Posted 06/11/2018 11:59 AM
Gilbert Allen:
A thoughtful, charming poem.
Posted 06/11/2018 11:12 AM

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