My father paces the upstairs hall
a large confined animal
neither wild nor yet domesticated.
About him hangs the smell of righteous wrath.
My mother is meekly seated
at the escritoire. Rosy from my bath
age eight-nine-ten by now I understand
his right to roar, hers to defy
the bill from Wanamaker’ s in his hand
the bill from Strawbridge’ s held high
My father paces the upstairs hall
We visit by phone as the morphine haze
retreats, late afternoon, most days.
Our mingled past is set against the pin-
hole lights of cars cruising the blacked-out streets:
If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in
Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
We here at Progressive Health would like to thank you
For being one of the generous few who've promised
To bequeath your vital organs to whoever needs them.
Now we'd like to give you the opportunity
To step out far in front of the other donors
By acting a little sooner than you expected,
I’ ve been here before, dreaming myself
backwards, among grappling hooks of light.
True to the seasons, I’ ve lived every word
spoken. Did I walk into someone’ s nightmare?
Hunger quivers on a fleshly string
at the crossroad. So deep is the lore,
there’ s only tomorrow today where darkness
splinters & wounds the bird of paradise.
On paths that plunge into primordial
green, Echo’ s laughter finds us together.
In the sweatshops of desire men think
if they don’ t die the moon won’ t rise.
Drunken laughter escapes
Behind the fence woven
With honeysuckle, up to where
I stand. Daddy’ s running-buddy,
Carson, is beside him. In the time
It takes to turn & watch a woman
Tiptoe & pull a sheer blouse off
The clothesline, to see her sun-lit
Dress ride up peasant legs
Like the last image of mercy, three
He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There's no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn't be
kissing the ground.
When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’ s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
Since it always begins
in the unlikeliest place
we start in an obsolete country
on no current map. The camera
glides over flower beds,
for this is a southern climate.
We focus on medals, a horse,
on a white uniform,
for this is June. The young man
waves to the people lining the road,
he lifts a child, he catches
a rose from a wrinkled woman
in a blue kerchief. Then we hear shots
and close in on a casket
draped in the Austrian flag.
Thirty-one days torn off a calendar.
Last night a man on the radio,
a still young man, said the business district
of his hometown had been plowed under.
The town was in North Dakota.
Grass, where the red-and-gold
Woolworth sign used to be,
where the revolving doors
took him inside Sears;
gone the sweaty seats
of the Roxy — or was it the Princess —
of countless Friday nights
that whipped his heart to a gallop
when a girl touched him, as the gun
on the screen flashed in the moonlight.