Photo by Stephani Schaefer, Los Molinos
When Fergus woke crying at night
I would carry him from his crib
to the rocking chair and sit holding him
before the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood,
which it took a quarter-hour of matches
and kindling to get burning right. Sometimes
—for reasons I never knew and he has forgotten—
even after his bottle the big tears
would keep on rolling down his big cheeks
—the left cheek always more brilliant than the right—
and we would sit, some nights for hours,
rocking in the almost lightless light
eking itself out of the ancient wood,
and hold each other against the darkness,
his close behind and far away in the future,
mine I imagined all around.
One such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
I thought I heard a scream
—a flier crying out in horror
as he dropped fire on he didn't know what or whom,
or else a child thus set aflame—
and sat up alert. The olive wood fire
had burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
fast asleep, left cheek glowing, God.
I remember my father, slight,
staggering in with his Underwood,
bearing it in his arms like an awkward bouquet
for his spastic child who sits down
on the floor, one knee on the frame
of the typewriter, and holding her left wrist
with her right hand, in that precision known
to the crippled, pecks at the keys
with a sparrow's preoccupation.
Falling by chance on rhyme, novel and curious bubble
blown with a magic pipe, she tries them over and over,
spellbound by life's clashing in accord or against itself,
pretending pretense and playing at playing,
she does her childhood backward as children do,
her fun a delaying action against what she knows.
My father must lose her, his runaway on her treadmill,
will lose the terrible favor that life has done him
as she toils at tomorrow, tensed at her makeshift toy.
How close the clouds press this October first
and the rain—a gray scarf across the sky.
In separate hospitals my father and a dear friend
lie waiting for their respective operations,
hours on a table as surgeons crack their chests.
They were so brave when I talked to them last
as they spoke of the good times we would share
in the future. To neither did I say how much
I loved them, nor express the extent of my fear.
Their bodies are delicate glass boxes
at which the world begins to fling its stones.
Is this the day their long cry will be released?
How can I live in this place without them?
But today is also my son's birthday.
He is eight and beginning his difficult march.
To him the sky is welcoming, the road straight.
Far from my house he will open his presents—
a book, a Swiss army knife, some music. Where
is his manual of instructions? Where is his map
showing the dark places and how to escape them?
MY FATHER PHOTOGRAPHED WITH FRIENDS
This is my father photographed with friends, when he was young.
Unsettled on the steps of a wooden porch, and the one
who lived there elegant beside him. They and the others
hopefully casual in the face of the deciding camera,
the judgments of which are unfeeling but can be swayed.
And I, as in some later picture of myself,
look for a person identified beyond doubt, and knowing that he
is none of the ones that he is not, yet still unsure,
under the features composed and trusting, who is there.
As if the decision were long and legal when handed down,
hard to be read and truly rendered in such a case.
And hard, in the face, to find our usual, pitiful ends.
God sweeten the bitter judgments of our lives. We wish so much.