Books » Chapter and Verse

Tough Guys

for Michael Wurster

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When I was a boy needing an example
Of the kind of man I wanted to be,
I turned away from the men I knew

Who seemed deeply and impossibly flawed
And went to the movies. John Wayne, Henry Fonda,
Gregory Peck, Bogart, Cagney, and Connery

Each taught me with their magnificent shining
Presences on the screen. These male icons
Showed me how to slug it out, take it on the chin,

And most of all, not to take any shit.
But the cinematic mentor I finally settled on
Was Lee Marvin. Tough, ironic, profane

He was invulnerable to pain and a stranger
to heartbreak. Mean, sarcastic, drunk —
no one could touch him

And no one did. But if you’re a tough guy
In real life, you find yourself, as I did,
Broke, divorced, homeless, and afraid of the police.

So I went back to the movies and re-discovered
Jimmy Stewart. Sweet, affable, modest,
Amenable, deferential, self-deprecating Jimmy.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, for example, George Bailey
Is a family man who in the work of his quiet days
Saves the town of Bedford Falls and when

Things go badly doesn’t blame others,
But examines his life and is grateful.
Or think of Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey

Who stutters the question Are you a s-smart man?
And the psychiatrist answers self-importantly,
Well, yes, I like to think that I am.

And Elwood says, I used to be s-smart.
Then I tried pleasant. Pleasant is b-better.

— Michael Simms


Michael Simms lives in Mount Washington. He is the founder of Autumn House Press and Vox Populi.


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