Matthew Dickman
The Animal Kingdom



When Owen was born

I was afraid,


like all new

fathers are afraid,


that I would drop

him and break


his head, still

shaped like a cone,


the shape his head

took so smartly


to slip out

of his mother’s body


and pierce the world.

Soon I had endless


dreams where the sky

broke and the soul


of the sky slipped

out and moved like a giant


pink squid above

the back porch,


the street, the grass.

When I woke


I would go to him

and lift him up


and rock him and move

my fingers along


his new spine

like a harp. I had


what you would call

anxiety. I kept thinking


about what would happen

if I stepped on him,


on his head as he lay

on the wool


baby blanket,

how my foot would feel


coming down

and through him, his baby-skin,


his beginning-skull.

How the whole world


would turn into

a kaleidoscoped coffin—


repeating forever.

I kept thinking


what would happen

if I forgot him


in the car, in the sun

while I walked


through the cool

air of some winding


grocery aisle,

how the plastic parts


of his carseat

would melt into him,


and him into it, how his

diaper would be


too full and too hot.

And I thought about all


those fathers

in the animal kingdom


who eat their young,

eat their hearts out


of their chests,

not because they are hungry,


or jealous, no,

not because of some ancient,


locked-in thread

of DNA that has yet to evolve,


but because they do not

know how to eat themselves,


which is what they really

want, to devour


the thing they hate

the most, the star-filled


wagon of the Self, that

bag of meat and bones


they did not ask to be.

I did not ask to be.


But here I am, in love,

cradling this hairless


human animal who comes

from a kingdom


of upright ants

with fingers and toes.


And my only job now,

in all the world,


is to not destroy my kids,

and in turn,


teach them not

to destroy others,


even though, of course,

I will and they will,


locked-in as we are

and free as any other animal.


Found In Volume 50, No. 04
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  • Matthew Dickman
Matthew Dickman
About the Author

Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review, 2008), the recipient of The Honickman First Book Prize, The May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Award from Claremont College; Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012); and  Wonderland (W.W. Norton & Co., 2017). His newest book, Husbandry, is forthcoming in 2022.