by Sherman Alexie
Oh, our poor speaker. He just can't do anything, right can he? In that sense, he's the classic ne'er-do-well dad, always trying, never succeeding, to do good.
Yep, he's a pretty typical guy. And the speaker is in somewhat of a typical domestic situation, trying to calm his infant son, while his wife comes into the room to breastfeed the baby. But what's unusual about this speaker is how he's talking in the poem, as if he's retelling the story to close friend.
Another way to look at it, is that we have VIP backstage passes to the internal life of a clueless father. Just what you've always wanted, right? Well, there are probably a few other situations that we can think of that would be more entertaining, but we do get behind the scenes details of how the speaker is feeling, and this gives the poem it's powerful ability to touch all of us.
The speaker gives subtle details about action while discussing the much larger, more complex emotional weight of his experience. For example, the speaker says, "I felt less important than the farthest star" and asks, "How can a father resent his son and his son's love?" That's a great question, dude. Why would a father do that? Lines like these shows us that this guy has some pretty deep stuff going on. He's not just worried about cleaning out the diaper pail.
Although he keeps comparing his son and wife to the stars, the speaker admits to feeling upset, and, more or less, just stands there in the dark bedroom, sulking. He says, "A selfish father, I wanted to pull apart/[m]y comfortable wife and son." Classy, dude.
It's almost like he's mimicking his son's discomfort but doesn't have anyone to come and calm him down. Ever seen a kid throw a temper tantrum because nobody is looking at him? Insert Dad for kid, and you'll get a sense of what's going on inside our speaker.
But there's a twist at the end, where the speaker addresses God for the first and only time, asking for forgiveness. Finally, we realize that while the speaker sounds like he's been talking to us, he's also been talking to God.
And while the speaker has brought us play-by-play through his emotional unfolding in his son's bedroom, we're brought along for his eventual understanding that feeling more important than what he loves is a mistake—a big one. Rock on, Dad. Better late than never.