, June 17, 2024

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 Ian Noble on Unsplash

The monk’s ton­sure is inten­tion­al, a shaved bald spot as part of the rit­u­als of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, but here, in his poem, ​“Ton­sure”, Young sees this hered­i­tary mark­er as a com­plex sign of the things a man inher­its from his father, the dif­fi­cult, the beau­ti­ful, and, most pow­er­ful­ly, the part that repeats itself when he becomes a father, too. Kevin Young​’s col­lec­tions are always an occa­sion, as is his next book, Stones, (2021) in which this poem appears.

By Kevin Young

Forever you find
         your father
in other faces—

a balding head
         or beard enough
to send you following

for blocks after
         to make sure
you’re wrong, or buying

some stranger a beer
         to share. Well, not
just one—and here,

among a world that mends
         only the large things,
let the shadow grow

upon your face
         till you feel
at home. It’s all

yours, this father
         you make
each day, the one

you became when yours
         got yanked away.
Take your place between

the men bowed
         at the bar, the beer
warming, glowing faint

as a heart: lit
         from within & just
a hint bitter.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Kevin Young, “Tonsure”, from Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2020. Forthcoming in Stones (Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2021 by The Poetry Foundation.

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