Archival Features, Archive, New Series, Poems

Sherman Alexie: “Home Improvement”

Home Improvement

I never learned to fix anything
I never learned to fix anything
Because my father was never taught
Because my father was never taught
To fix anything
And he never taught us to fix anything
Because he was only six
Because he was only six
When his father was killed in WWII.
He was only six
When his father was killed on Okinawa Island.
My father never taught me to fix anything
So walking into Lowe’s or Home Depot
Reminds me of my fatherlessness.
It reminds me of my father’s fatherlessness.
My father’s fatherlessness.
My father’s fatherlessness.
In this Home Depot, I come looking for an outdoor lamp
To replace one that should have been replaced
Fifteen years ago.
Every fifteen years, I fix something around my house.
But I decide I need more than an outdoor lamp.
I need something more.
I need something more.
We all need something more.
So I wander Home Depot
Looking for the loneliest worker.
For the clerk who looks like his father worked him over worst.
And I find him, an older man
Who looks like he has renovated three houses
And two childhoods.
“Excuse me,” I say to him.
“Do you have a tool that can help me repair
What my father broke inside of me?”
I ask him, “Do you have a wrench or a crowbar
Or a drill that can fix what has been broken inside of me?”
And the guy smiles and says he’s been looking for that same thing
For twenty-two years.
He’s looking for what I’ve been looking for.
So he and I wander the aisles and ask the other men, workers and customers,
If they know of a tool that can repair
What has been broken inside of our male hearts.
And they’re all broken in the same way
So they join our search.
Fifty men wander this Home Depot.
And we’re all 50 years old.
We’re all graying and gray.
We’re all carrying big bellies and soft arms.
We’re all raving, raving, raving about our fathers.
We’re mourning our fathers’ lives
And our fathers’ deaths.
And all of us, all of us, all of us
Are running short on breath.

Sherman Alexie is the author of the forthcoming memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, out June 13 from Little, Brown and Company.