My father doesn’t read books anymore
He doesn’t really give an explanation why
It’s just something he gave up
Just as someone would cast away an old rug, a clock, something on a countertop that visitors might glance at, touch without realizing it
while immersed in crowded kitchen chatter.
He used to be writer, a believer in folded corners
and slice of life plotlines, characters with tight-fisted secrets
that slow burn like a lantern beside the bed
He used to trace the words with his finger as he drank them in
and adjust his glasses between chapters.
It’s not something he’ll tell just anyone who wants to talk
literature. If you bring up Barth or Updike
You can see a kindling in his eyes — an understanding of cadence and transcendence and the soft curve of a liquid reflection:
Metaphors like the woods and opera and smiles across hissing summer fires.
He remembers these things like old lovers
They never quite go away.
If you recommend a book to my father he’ll politely decline. It’s not for him
— like knitting or hunting or drinking alone.
He’ll read the newspaper with a side of oatmeal and fruit, and
clear his throat when he turns the page.
When my father reads anything I’ve written
he is slow to respond, sparse with his words
But I can see his eyes glassy with a daydream:
Upon a tree of only branches,
there is a bud that begins to open up.
Until him there was nothing dark enough
To bend and twist with the thick of the woods
He casts raw shadows against peeling bark
Like an old prison veteran, he’s afraid of the outside
He’d whisper that to someone, across wires
Between tin cans if he could
The soil he calls home is sand between his toes
His home is a blinking red dot that fades without a bulb
He’s an homage to a different time
The convergence of science and a heavy-handed cloud
He’s a story being told to scare children around campfires
To satisfy the sense of mystery we use to survive each day
When a hatchet and a knife just won’t do
Some days people come for him
Leave him messages scratched in dirt
They look for a sign of him with fingers pressed against their lips
But every time he makes himself known
He sees his reflection through their glassy stares
There is a scientist in a dark room
He lives next door to you
He knows the passwords that haven’t been set yet
He understands the textures and membrane
that encase feelings and thoughts
He says things like
I won’t believe it until I see it
But he doesn’t mean it
When he peers through the heaving trees
Between the fury of windshield wipers
He sees a world he can’t hold in his hands
Or study through a microscope
He sighs —
I cannot discover what does not want to be seen.
Lately, my life has been exploding in narrative arc,
spinning in car crashes, off-kilter smiles, the force of paper airplane
deadlines cranking like a car jack under my body.
This body of my work. We are strangers, soon to part,
What I mean in real life is that the damage is immeasurable.
There’s no going back.
Tomorrow is a whole other day.
—all those clichés
and more, rattle in the trunk of my car.
When you fall out of or into love, there is a dizzying forest
you kneel in to pay your respects to the fire.
The one that’s about to burn you
Tell me. Who has never tried but failed to say something?
Whose knees have never whimpered against
the concrete parts of this world?
Who has never watched a magician pull a rabbit
Or a bird or a bent pink bouquet out of their hat,
and thought: why couldn’t I have done that?
A long time ago, with you?
I stopped wishing for that kind of magic,
the day I started beginning my sentences with honestly…
As my voice trailed off the edge of smoky sincerity.
Because I like to cloud my own judgment until my heart settles
to a skip, shaking Oh man, what did I do?
It feels like rain.
The kind where the earth is a wet sphere that gets stuck
in the mud every time you try to kick it passed the curb.
I realized recently that questions are passive
welts on our knuckles. They don’t move me
along. Because when I’m truly inspired,
in love, in the fire, I will speak in active language,
with conviction, with no paper trail
of crumpled apologies for my life—or yours—
singing behind me in the wreck.
Let me tell you something about addicts
Mom says as she forms the face of God
in her mashed potatoes.
They’re depressed. Lonely. Desperate.
We dig our forks in silently.
They’ll lie, cheat and steal
for drug money.
My brother sits in his room
for dinner. He scratches
lottery ticket after ticket.
I need a luckier penny
he tells me. I try to remember
if I ever called anything lucky
or if I just liked the way certain pennies
jingled in my change purse.
2 plus 13 plus 7
He mutters, staring into bright
rectangles with cartoon pots of gold.
Nothing adds up to 21
He turns to me, hopeful I’ll disagree.
I nod, a gesture half thawed
out of some winter chill. He slinks back into
his childhood desk chair.
They’re all losers. Losers.
When my mom and I are alone
the next afternoon has frosted over
in the kitchen. A deer appears
through the window in our backyard.
He rummages through a thin layer
of snow and leaf particles of left over
He comes to the old tree that had fallen last night,
out of agreement to the wind. It sliced
our yard in half. Into two new territories.
Behind the tree, the deer considers the jutting branches.
cold peeling bark. He looks at us finally
to collect an answer, a deposit, a warmed-by-the fire soul.
My mom and I hold our breath.
Maybe we’re counting to heaven. Maybe we’re waiting
to see what he will do.
In April the vines twist outside our house
Each time we leave for coffee or beer we return
To find they’ve grown longer and more intricate
Cleverly stagnate when we’re watching
When the center droops and threatens to break
Under the weight of itself
Daniels ties loose ends together like dignified rope
Or a father tying his son’s shoelaces for good
The nights are still cool and disciplined
Best for campfire-less silence and rubbing
Bare feet together during each breeze
Daniel and I contemplate the day
And then the next one
The changes between are only tick marks on trees
But inside the thick wood, another ring is forming
Faintly at first—like the mark around a finger
After you’ve cast off the band by the kitchen sink
Daniel’s worried his job will take him nowhere
I am frightened by where mine is going
And somewhere between, our dog holds the answer
Back arched in simple truths, paws sprawled out
To stretch the sunlight a little longer
We both like to tell him that all dogs go to heaven
Though we agree that heaven does not exist
Perhaps this is what it means to love something
More than the truths that have come to mark our wisdom
The end of spring is already here when the vines become
Entwined with the tangle of bushes in the back corner of the yard
Daniel speaks about it to me through a crooked grin
Like he built the green hammock when I wasn’t looking
When the night is humid like buttered toast against my skin
He says he knows where the vine will extend next
How powerful that makes he, and us, in theory
Until I see the dog sniff underneath it for buried twigs and treasure and
Signs of new life that we’ll never see.
When you fall it’s in one direction—always down
The haphazard spiral someone drew in a notebook margin
The neon arrow that blinks and sparks and catches fire
It’s all meant to illustrate your trajectory
Where you’re going there’s no handspun moon
No ticking clock or bomb
What you brace yourself against, you can’t take with you
The railings, the wooden ladders, the shoulders of
Sturdier men than you
There’s great speculation about where you end
But the debates are short-lived conversations
Between poker games—the next hand
In space where your echo carries just as much weight
As your hands and your bottles
Imagine nothing is italicized and emphasized
And wrapped in heavy gestures
There is nothing you can say that will
Carry you to the next level
By now, you’ve missed an entire war
There are people above or beneath you
who fought for and lost things
That you can’t even imagine exist in real life
When you’re falling through a black hole
The only thing you can love are shapes
The things you pass never get closer or further away
Glowing lights contain their bursting in compact rectangles
Nothing orbits anything anymore; no lullaby
Physics is your crying mother and you owe her again
Again and again. It’s time for a new hole
On a golf course, from a bullet
It stopped mattering to you a long time ago
You’ve lost that patient sense of narrative arc
The paper airplane that got confiscated and when it was returned
You didn’t remember it at all
It’s funny how ‘falling’ sounds like an accident
You were pushed, dropped, flicked like the spark from a flame
You think there is a force throwing its weight at you
Again and again. Like a pillow case filled with hard-nosed books
And people celebrating their traditions of letting you down.
When you’re falling through a black hole
You got there because you hi-jacked the ship
You propelled it into nowhere and
You got there as fast as you could.
There are mornings where there is a quiet
Crease on your side of the bed
You got up early and are drinking coffee
With last night’s sleep still on your teeth
You sit at the computer as though you’re paused—
There’s your flannel jacket, stiff against your skin
Holding you together like a bullet casing
Your brown hair was the explosion and the silent
aftermath is the flattened curls that itch you
It’s on these mornings that you feel you’d be better
suited standing on the frontlines of a war
Where common courtesy is an unmarked grave
No one visits.
Dying for something in which you vehemently believe
You’d carefully place your faith in that bottle with tweezers
The ship that’s anchored, that by going nowhere
means that it has already seen the world and sewed it shut.
I could walk for miles in our house and still not find you
You’re in the cupboards and beneath the floorboards but
You’re peeling away like wallpaper. You’re the tree who feels nothing
When I tear away your bark
When you’re in pause, I have to watch you
Hide the sharp objects, tiptoe to the kitchen,
Make my world scarce — distant land from your boat
Two desolate specs; neither can move.
I may have said something all wrong last night.
Did you know that words don’t go away?
The sound waves just get further and further apart over time
One day someone may be able to listen to the conversation we had
To slice through atoms which tenderly house each utterance
Protecting them from the bubble bursters, the people who say
forgive and forget
There’s a point to all of this, and I am sure if you were here
You’d want me to get to it quicker.
But we’re going to need your boat to get there.