Helen Ross

Winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2014

A Blond Boy

Apollo had it all figured out, it seems,
years before you and I began to self-destruct.

I was holding a red cup, and you were cradling me,
and in the darkness in that parking lot,
three potheads were lighting up.
They began to breathe lantern oil,
flaring brightly for half a moment,
and gone, with only the memory of
my indignant gasp and your low murmur
of sunshine laughter a reminder
that it ever endangered us at all.

You walked in that night wearing three pairs of sunglasses,
and I laughed and removed them one by one,
reminding you that we do not live lives that require
constant protection against sunshine
or joy, since our own existences seem to be doing
damn good jobs as buffers against
most of the good that we were promised
the glow of gold in our pockets would lure to us.

No one happy chain-smokes like that, Sam,
and I began to pluck the cigarettes from your fingers too,
because I couldn't stand the crack in your voice
when you told me that you didn't have any friends left
     at home,
and I can't let you risk a broken throat and misty eyes,
since sun gods were made to stare clearly.
Your bright eyes followed me as I strummed the guitar,
breathing later those bubbling words of praise.
You're the god of music, honey.
Don't lay this one on me.

I will not be Daphne. I do not die at the end of the story,
and my roots do not reach deep into this soil.
My father will never come to save me.
I shot you with one arrow, straight and true,
and for every mile you chased me,
I led you another. Stop breathing.
You'll wake up in the morning,
and cross the sky again, and soon
you'll find another as beguiled
by the sun's easy light.

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Richard Blanco on Helen Ross

Writing a good poem involves the challenge of uncovering a certain clarity and wisdom without professing these or becoming didactic. "Blond Boy" handles this wonderfully, avoiding cliché and sentimentality and never over-stating itself. The voice and images are crisp and authoritative, without pretension or over-exertion.  This poet knows the fine balance among the many forces—great and small—that pull and tug at a poem, as well as prop-up and propel it.  Proof lies in this poem's ability to allude to Greek mythology without seeming trite.  "Blond Boy" evokes the myth of Apollo and Daphne, but with a fresh contemporary spin: "You're the god of music, honey. / Don't lay this one on me." And also provides a reversal of the myth that delights, surprises, and adds dimension: "I will not be Daphne/…my roots do not dig deep into this soil./My father will never come to save me."  At every turn, this poet is in charge of the language, in control of the moment delivered with clarity, richness, and—most of all—an honesty that transcends the very moment.

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