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.

About the Author

Kevin Young was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He studied under Seamus Heaney and Lucie Brock-Broido at Harvard University and, while a student there, became a member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of African American writers. He was awarded a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and later earned an MFA from Brown University. He is the author of many books of poetry, including Brown (2018), Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015, and Book of Hours (2014).

Reflection by Kwame Dawes

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.

Publication Rights

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 © 2022 by The Poetry Foundation.

Post Image

Bernardino Zenale, Saint Anthony of Padua, c. 1507 (detail)

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