'It's all yours, this father you make each day'

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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, 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. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska

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