A Father’s Poem
Sometimes at night
I watch you sleeping,
The darkness curled around you
Like rags and bent grasses.
In that poverty of light,
I see the fragments of so many:
A line that was his,
A curve that was hers,
This one’s curl,
And that one’s shadow.
But the mix, uniquely your own.
And sometimes I bend my face
Into the river of your breathing
Just to feel the heat of you
Rising like the sun’s heat
Off a field just planted.
You are the deep kiss
That moves continuously
Between me and your mother,
And you are that wonderful country
Where everything we thought we lost
The trees scream with them.
One thousand black birds left as one,
And suddenly the air is filled
With hooked wings and hunger.
The hard days are coming.
Our shoes turn to stone overnight,
And, when we wipe
The mist from our mirrors,
We find them filled with strangers.
Shadows sweep across the sundials,
And one thousand blackbirds vanish into a tree.
Soon it will be enough just knowing
The name of the darkness
Staring back at us from between the leaves.
All day, I’ve been moving
Through the rooms of my old house,
Getting them ready for new people.
Armed with a steam gun and a putty knife,
I’ve been peeling the old wallpaper,
Cutting down to the bare walls.
There is silence in these rooms,
And, as the blade lifts the paper,
I can feel the ones who used to live here
Rising behind me.
When I turn, there is nothing
But empty windows filled with winter sticks.
I cut through paper landscapes,
Turn the soil and bring up
The faded flowers of Ginger’s room.
I stop, and the blade colors
As if fogged by the breathing
Of my lost sister.
I move on.
The steam hisses against the walls
As the blade bites
Down to the horsehair plaster.
Behind me, these rooms fill
With blue light and whispers.
I am the trap door
That springs open in the air
Through which your small lives
Mine is that place
Deep in the woods
Where suddenly it rains
Small bones and feathers.
When you know you’re alone
But feel you are
Don’t come here
All I offer
After the summer crowds have gone
And after the exaltation of pipers,
The butterflies claim the beach,
Painting the space between
Sea, sand, and sky
Black and gold with their awakening.
Do they remember their old lives,
The heaviness of their other bodies
As they clung to the green world?
Do they still crave that bitter milk
That sustained them
As they spun towards their little deaths?
Now, on wings wet with morning,
They wobble on the unreliable air,
Above the hiss of surf across sand,
That vague, maternal voice,
Calling them home.
Paul Callahan is American poet who is a past winner of The Worcester County Poetry Contest (Massachusetts). His poetry has been published in Yankee Magazine and The Worcester Review.