Birthday Blues

By Mark Rudman b. 1948 Mark Rudman
Today's the rider's birthday.

I see you're already lower-casing him...

Would you rather I...

What is this "I." You have none.

Today's the rider's birthday.

Except he's dead.

In a contrary mood today?

Not in the way you'd think.

I'm you're friend, remember? And I can't hurt you. I have no body.

Neither does Krang.


The bodiless brain. The Ninja Turtles' nemesis. The guy who oversees
all of their activities.

And yet you carry him in your pocket like a good luck charm. You perplex
your son who can't see the humor in your perversity because to him Krang is
just, to put it plainly, disgusting.

Just his brain. On the show and the Nintendo game his naked
brain is always
         safely encased within
                   a robot's body

where his stomach
         and not his head
                   ought to be.

Ought? I thought we had done with the realm of could-have-been. The realm
of shoulds.

Who is ever done with—anything?
Just because I agree with Marie-Louise Von Franz's
                     "no more shoulds"
          doesn't mean I'm freed from the    actuality.

And just because the rider is dead
doesn't mean that today isn't
his birthday.

April 17. I'm fine, really.

I believe you.

But the week has been—.

I know. But think of it this way: you're lucky that you can break down.

I kept scratching my brain in imagination trying to remember if this was
the week when B died a year ago. And J the same week the year before.

After each death something went wrong with your body.

All right, all right. Even though I had the flu I dragged myself to the gym
to stretch out on the mats and listen to some calming music on my
Walkman. This was going well. I had my arms and legs extended as far as
possible in the opposite direction and I could feel my lungs release...,
but when I reached for my toes I...convulsed and burst into tears.

Good thing you'd worn your sunglasses.

Yeah. I knew that the tears could have been mistaken for sweat and the
groans for...

and while it was days before the date, as if emblazoned (would stare me
down-to-distraction) I just could not stop thinking about the intimate
quiet moments we shared; our rare and wonderful moments of true soli-
tude together...; the unforced gentleness and sense of mutuality...:


That's so unimportant. The point is that he had internalized the lessons;
it was in his nature to be that way.

I don't see what's so strange. His birthday was approaching. You were sad.
That's perfectly normal.

But what pierced me at that moment like an axe was the recognition
that I never had
         a    conversation with my (blood) father.

Don't be dumbfounded. My feelings about the two men are always in
dialogue, crissing and crossing.

Lying in that relaxed position on the exercise mat
listening to the intervals
in Ry Cooder's mesmerizing Paris, Texas score, it
                  hit me that as my father's
birthday approached, or the hour
of his suicide neared,
that I felt mildly aware, mildly    sad,
but not remotely devastated and torn that I had lost

someone with whom I had an intimacy that could

never be repeated.

Nothing can—.

You know I don't mean it that way.

Then be precise.

Someone who, at least in crucial times, communicated a warmth and
love and care without

competing with you and undercutting you at every instant like
your blood father. And your grandfather—.


That's what I'm here for.

So I was torn by a new perplexity with regard to my real father. I never
lived with him but we spent countless hours alone together and he was
often, before he hit the bottle, quite friendly, easy-going, low pressure.

A compañero.

We liked to hobo around together.

But even looking at clusters of the best moments we had in each
other's presence we still never had
                            a conversation. He had his
mind made up about me and, with his game-plan fully laid out,
chose to employ this or that tactic to
                              edify, or instruct..., to
lead me onto better paths

for I am in no way criticizing his motivation in trying to help

it was just that he had no


He knew in advance anything I could possibly think or say.

But it wasn't personal. It was just the way he was. You brought
a friend to dinner who was stationed on a ship outside Nankeng
Harbor. Your father appeared to listen to his sea stories
    —and the thing that "most blew his mind"—
       when the missle, launched
    from the ship, landed
                     "directly on"
    a peasant hoeing rice who "didn't know where the hell
                   he was going"
    and blew him away completely
    and the sailors laughed

       —and your friend came apart—

and while your FACE showed proper astonishment
                   your      FATHER
         just pawed the place mat

         to rid it of imaginary crumbs

         and with stern and solemn nods

         that withheld surprise at all costs

and gravity of tone worthy of Lincoln!

told your friend that the gist                                  of war was       boredom

and he, perhaps unused to such practiced delivery during
"informal" gatherings

took this in then whispered wide-eyed that he could not believe
how your father could know everything he'd gone through
when he'd never gone through it

and while his sadism was not in full flower in such isolated
instances it was

a drag.

No wonder I was touched when Sam agreed to an evening of five-card-
stud on one condition: "no poker faces"!

Your father's mask was his face.

No—depth? Interior—life?

No - but that he cared more about the impression he made than about what
you or your friend were undergoing.

He was always onstage, your father. Preening for posterity in a void of his
own invention.


He was never, or always and only, himself.

Mark Rudman. "Birthday Blues" from The Millennium Hotel copyright 1996 by Mark Rudman and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: The Millennium Hotel (Wesleyan University Press, 1996)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mark Rudman b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Parenthood, Sorrow & Grieving, Living, Relationships, Birth & Birthdays, Family & Ancestors

 Mark  Rudman


Geography, place, diaspora and eroticism figure greatly in Mark Rudman’s work. Born in New York City, he spent a large part of his childhood traveling, living in Illinois, Utah, and Florida. He returned to New York City for school, where he earned a BA from the New School and an MFA from Columbia University. He has also spent significant time in Mexico and Italy. His books of poetry include the five that form what he terms the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Parenthood, Sorrow & Grieving, Living, Relationships, Birth & Birthdays, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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