Mudlark No. 13 (2000)
 

A Note to My Sons

by Edward Harkness


Edward Harkness teaches English at Shoreline Community College near Seattle. The poems in his Mudlark chapbook, A NOTE TO MY SONS, represent a generous selection from SAYING THE NECESSARY, Harkness's first full-length poetry collection, forthcoming in June 2000 from Pleasure Boat Studio.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Some of these poems have appeared in the following magazines: THE PORTLAND REVIEW, DUCKABUSH JOURNAL, ARNAZELLA, THE SEATTLE REVIEW, AFTERNOON: A MAGAZINE OF ART AND LITERATURE, SPINDRIFT, THE POEM AND THE WORLD (VOL. II), and SWITCHED-ON GUTENBERG; and the following chapbooks: FIDDLE WRAPPED IN A GUNNYSACK (Dooryard Press, 1984) and WATERCOLOR PAINTING OF A BAMBOO RAKE (Brooding Heron Press, 1994).


CONTENTS

The Night Kid Paret was Killed on TV
Helen
Right Field
Flying Fortress: My Father Survives the War
Nap
The Worlds I Know
My Son's Drawing of a Smiling Deer
His Night Light
Seven Star Spoon
Dragon Kite
Superman in China
On Reading of the Hanging of Benjamin Moloise in South Africa
Black Butterflies
At the Site of the Underground Missile Silo
Rifles
High Country Climb
Saying the Necessary
A Note to My Sons





The Night Kid Paret was Killed on TV

Again the sky has gone to seed.
Damn blackberries!
I dodge my way
through Mrs. Roat's orchard,
scratched,
imagining her big dog.

   Eddie? That you? Door's open.

Joe watches the fights,
the blue screen, sips an Oly.
Jean stuffs clothes
in the drier. I redden
at Linda's bra
and filmy underpants.

   Who's fighting?

Joe says
   Benny Paret and some other nigger.

The Kid is trapped in a corner.
Hard right.
Another booming right.
The crowd comes alive!

Linda says
   You wanna Coke?

   I don't care. Yeah.

The Kid's head snaps,
lolls like a doll's.

Solid left, right.

His head shakes No.

Shakes No, no.
No. Seven, eight times.

Loping home,
the moon growls,
caught in the teeth of a dead fir.
I feel my head, the new
soft places,
fists of air slamming
some lovely humming in my ear.


 
 
Helen

I see her tearing strips
from a sheet, tying
sweet pea shoots to chicken wire.
Her hair is Asian, wistful,

teased by April wind.
She sings Beautiful, Beautiful
Brown Eyes,
looks up and winks
the way jaunty women did back then.

That fall her blossoms
withered without her.
Grandma took me to the room
of the dead smell.

Propped by pillows, Helen
grinned, shrunken, the bleached
branch of her leg exposed,
naked to the thigh.

On the bedside stand were pills,
Kleenex and a paper cup.
She fumbled with lipstick,
poked in place the last wisps

of her hair, winked and rasped,
Hey there, good-lookin'.
She tried to light a cigarette.
Grandma had to steady

her dangling wrist.
It's a kick, Erm, she wheezed.
Ain't it a kick?
Red stained her yellow teeth.

What became of the maroon
Schwinn, chrome and cream trim,
I got that Christmas? Where’s
the grey slush of memory

I tried to ride it in?
From her kitchen,
Grandma studied the sky's
gray sheets fold and fold.

It's Sunday forever, forever July.
Morning is a girl's dress
floating over houses, trees.
I tie my own sweet peas

to chicken wire,
lean forward to water them
and enter a room the color
of hospital broth.

I grew these for you.
Let me fill your cup.
Helen, why are you dying?
Open your eyes. It's me.


 
 
Right Field

No kid I knew ever hit a really long ball—
to left, maybe, but not to my island,
my abandoned kingdom in right.
I'd pick dandelions,
rub spit in my glove,
study the frayed lacing.
Even then I was waiting for something:
a cloud, rain, a huge crow to flutter
onto the diamond and lift me
beyond the dull ache in my ribs.

They were ahead, no outs.
I dreamed of a warm purple lake and
      thwack,
a ball began to rise toward deep right center.
No one knew about my appendicitis,
not my mother, and not my coach,
Mr. Glen Bitterbender,
the first grown man I heard utter,
"Jesus, have I got a hard-on."

That ball climbed the afterdinner sky,
peaked as a wave surged through me.
Glen Bitterbender bellowed,
"Hustle, you little bastard!"
I sprinted, howling, my gut on fire.
The runner at third waltzed in;
behind him jogged the guy from second.
In that expanse of parched grass,
my ankle found the lone sprinkler head.

I did this dance of death,
tribal, an insane contortion.
The ball dropped like a meteor,
smacked my left big toe.

I'll never know how I got my glove down there,
never even felt it slap the pocket.
"To second!" the coach barked.
"Throw the damn thing to second."
I lobbed it in on two hops for the double,
and from second the relay and force at third.

Triple play.

We didn't win that game.
We didn't win any game.
After my surgery, Coach Bitterbender
brought me three lemon cupcakes.
Next season he called, his voice cracking,
to tell me I'd been cut.
The season after,
drowsing in his recliner,
sports page draped across his eyes,
his heart tore loose from its worn stitching.

Once again,
through the summer dusk,
high above the backstop,
above the stubby hemlocks along Fremont Avenue,
the ball, my secret star, is rising.
   I got it   I got it
And the mothers—not mine—
jump from their folding chairs to cheer
the pale boy they thought too small to play.
They watch me hobble in, nimble,
clutching my side.
My face is a mask.
Pain to me is normal, a way of life.
Glen Bitterbender pats my cheek.
"Sweet, Eddie. Now that was sweet."
I shake my stinging hand and grin.


 
 
Flying Fortress: My Father Survives the War

I imagine the roar as silent
after seven hours in the sky
over Austria or Dresden,
the Forts in stacked formations
of a hundred lumbering bombers
with payloads of five
five hundred pounders.

Every airman is certain this is not
the morning white flak exploding
from below or black flak raining
from above will slice a fuel line
or shatter a pilot's face or neatly
amputate an aluminum wing
and send eleven crewmen spiraling
like Icarus crazed by the sun.
If hit, my father had no way out.
His parachute wouldn't fit inside
the turret—his plexiglass world
where he pitched and yawed,
gloved hands locked
on .50 cal. machine guns,
open target for any Messerschmit
flashing through key holes in the clouds.
They swarmed like bees
one Sunday morning in particular
over Berlin, he 19 and sweating
in his heated suit, the plane pitching
jolted from artillery, death
from any direction, fuck,
after 33 missions, the war
almost over and luck's gone.
See the curved horizon,
puffs of dust five miles below
where bombs hit, a 17 to the left
break in half, no chutes.
Okay. Okay. Goodbye Mom, Pop—
the Messerschmits howl as they pass
falling back to pick off stragglers
lost or low on fuel, his own ship
pitching, bombs away like babies cradle
and all, him squeezing the triggers—
Did he hit one?—they gleam like knives—
Jesus if You love me show Yourself
the ship turning blind toward the sun
squeeze the triggers turn you sonofabitch
specks of sunlight
spiking the fuselage perforated
from bursts of bits of metal.

I will be born and hear these fragments,
how the sky opened once more,
how the German fighters vanished,
scattered by a squadron of Tuskeegee Airmen.
They escorted the 17s home
across the scalloped Adriatic,
above the Alps where ships
on earlier runs went down in fog.
In his red-tailed P-51, one Tuskeegee flyer
pulled aside my father's bomber.
Dad took off his oxygen.
So did the other flyer.
Dad waved, gave thumbs up.
The fighter pilot—a man with kind eyes
is all my father recalls—
nodded, tipped his wings and flew away
as the base in Foggia came into view.

I never asked him did he kill people in the war.
He did. Over the Alps, blocks of ice
spangled like broken blue cities.

In that world above this one
the four Pratt & Whitneys droned.
Up there he glimpsed his savior for a moment—
a guy from Alabama—the closest
to a black friend my father ever got.


 
 
Nap

You lie on the made bed.
Dust glitters, suspended
in the room's patient air.
Your body is not dust, not yet.
It's a submerged canoe,
like your father's was—
24 years at Boeing,
years that got him nothing
but a bad back, discs
worn down to chalk,
a clunker Oldsmobile
gray as pavement.
All those fall afternoons
he'd disappear,
nap till dinner, late sunlight
draining from the bedroom,
his head pressed between
pillows to muffle the static
of quarrels, TV, slammed
cupboards, the rasp of traffic
on Aurora Avenue,
and a boy's cracked laughter.

It's your turn now
to nap away an afternoon.
Outside, your sons cackle,
happy as chimps.
Their rusty swings
wail the song of a man
who dreams he's sinking,
the man your mother warned you
not to disturb, the man,
drifting through filtered light,
wakes to find that dinner
is over, the kingdom of dust
rising before him.


 
 
The Worlds I Know

Don't breathe, I tell my son,
they'll die. We lean over the cold
blue hood of the car, bend close

to watch the first flakes,
small as salt grains,
light and break or stay whole.

I point a numb finger:
Look there, tiny perfect stars,
I say without speaking,

only with my eyes, and he nods,
smiles, shows me one of his—
a palace so ephemeral

it floated here. I wish I had
a magnifying glass. I wish
I had another life to give him

the worlds I know, the worlds
I don't, and together we could
enter the church of a diamond.

I'll have to settle for this:
a logging spur two rutted miles
above Rattlesnake Gorge.

Over a broken pine, just visible
against grey, a red-tailed hawk
traces lonely ovals.

Flags of green moss cling
to a bony snag. He's tall,
nearly as tall as me.

Our lungs give out
and the ghosts inside us rise.
He shivers in bitter air,

says nothing, and I know too
well it's time to move on,
the snow normal now, not strange

lace along the line of hills.
On the quiet ride down, our hearts
whisper from their separate cells.


 
 
My Son's Drawing of a Smiling Deer

On the way home in the car
he crayons it brown as my boot.
It's the doe we saw
near our tent on the sandbar,
flood-raw after the runoff.
From the fat potato body
legs curl like sprouts.
Waxy yellow eyes light her
from within. He gives her
a dainty tail.
            Startled
by our voices on that shore,
the real deer stared,
leaf in mouth, blinked, bolted,
then swam across the river
into trees. The real deer
of my son's vision he graces
with a long smile,
smile of a boy who has seen
something wild return his gaze.
His doe browses in the white meadow
of art paper. No river,
no mountain, no stippled sky.
She is his secret self
brought to light and life,
almost human, almost animal--
a boydeer from the other world.


 
 
His Night Light

                      glows
in the corner of his room—
a campfire far off in the trees.

Fever burnishes his cheeks.
He wheezes,
puffing out his lips.

Lying with him, I ask
the light:
Where are the words

to draw out his disease?
Like peonies in a breeze,
his eyelids flutter.

We have survived
the shipwreck by clinging
to a plank,

rocking on the sea
of ragged sleep. There,
far off, the beacon burns.

We are nearing land,
the gray country of dawn,
an island where we can

stay just as we are.
We never have to die here.
Let the waves repeat

their stories. Let these
be the words. We can
cook over a fire

on our secret shore,
the sand cool and blue
forever on our skin.


 
 
Seven Star Spoon

Qi Xing Xi, the Chinese say.
Greeks pointed to the Big Bear.
And American slaves
followed the Drinking Gourd.
Tonight the Dipper stands on its handle
above Bethel Ridge, where today,
through binoculars, we spotted
on a bare slope a dozen black-tailed deer
browsing in gold grass.
Tonight, Christmas, we're out for shooting stars.
Old snow crunches underfoot like toast.

Friends, we've made it this far.
Inside, our kids play blackjack by the fire.
Our kids don't like the bitter air
or understand why we shiver
out here and stare at the deep glittering.
Kids, like winter days, come and go.
Kids, like stars, are always.
We can make out spidery aspens,
hear the river sputter over stones.
They'll be fading soon.
They don't see us tumble
over the ridge toward the Seven Star Spoon.
They don't know we are migratory,
we are headed north.

      — For the Bortons: Rich, Wendy, Brian, Jamie and David


 
 
Dragon Kite

         — Tianjin, China

They gather at the footbridge,
headed to market to buy rice,
a day's potatoes, or
a jin of slick black eels.

He arrives in his ancient
cotton jacket, same dark blue
everyone wears, padded, at least,
against a taut March breeze.

Today he brings his dragon kite.
Three boys carry its bamboo body,
down the canal, gently unfolding
its yellow paper wings. Shouting

commands, he feeds out line.
Stooped old women with lily feet,
young men smoking, coasting
on sleek Flying Pigeon bikes,

mothers hoisting the one baby
the state allows--they all
stop to break a day's routine.
He reels in slack, waves, yells,

and the boys let it catch a gust.
His dragon balks, sags, climbs
above the scummy ditch
glittering with glass,

above wires and a stark, half-
built apartment, same shape,
same red brick as the rest,
drab as a government decree.

High against ribbed clouds,
his dragon, fierce-eyed and
undulant, gives its colors
to a chilly morning, blue-tinged

with coal dust. Carrying our daily
bread, we gasp as his creature
leaps, snaps and gallops
headlong into the dirty wind.


 
 
Superman in China

The theater's cold, half full
of kids and their folks
bundled in hats and coats.
Before the lights dim,
we draw the usual stares.
We're foreigners, Nimen de Meiguo
pengyou—
"We're your American friends"—
and we've come to see the American
Man of Steel, Chao Ren, and Lois
glide like gods over Miss Liberty
and the decadent city below.

The dubbing's lovely, Brando's Jorell
intoning like a Chinese Moses.
Then, of course, scenes of crime,
essential to any image of the States.
The Big Bomb goes boom, California
comes unglued. Death of Lois.
A grieving Superman reverses
Earth's orbit, reverses time,
saves his secret love
saves us all from doom.

We stroll out to a sooty afternoon,
streets flowing with cyclists,
manic Chinese cabbies in Nissans.
An old man squats by his dozen
geraniums. Nin hao—"Hello!"—
we say to his toothless grin,
his eyes a bright forever in the sun.
And for a moment there's no America,
no Superman, just us waiguo ren,
"outside-country-persons," chatting
in bad Chinese with this lao ren
and his baskets of red flowers,
who's waited for us on his noisy,
tree-lined street in Tianjin
two thousand years.


 
 
On Reading of the Hanging
of Benjamin Moloise in South Africa

         — Beidaihe, China

Here on the Bohai sands
waves curl into their green sounds.
Benjamin Moloise was hanged
today in Pretoria.
Where the sun burns the water
Chinese fishermen fling their nets.
Their boats bob like corks.
Beyond boats and nets, my country floats,
a dream of far away blue.

Benjamin Moloise was hanged today.
In blue padded jackets, a crowd
of locals comes to stare

from a pier at the weird Americans
in their shorts and bikinis,
leaping in and out of foam.
That old woman with pruny skin
has never seen a blond boy, never heard
an American boy shriek and splash
in the chilly sea we love.

Benjamin Moloise will never stroll
this blond shore. Beyond men
and their nets floats an island
where no one is ever hanged.
On the far end of the beach,
a young woman sits before her easel.
She paints aspens, waves, wind,
boats bobbing like corks,
a dream of far away blue.
Today in Pretoria they hanged
the poet Benjamin Moloise.


 
 
Black Butterflies

Flakes of ash, they light
on leaves and grass on this bluff
above the Yellow Sea,
not yellow but a dented
turquoise floor, violent
despite a cloudless afternoon.
We've left the guided tour.
My sons discover a notch
on the hillside, a cave closed
by swords of brambles.
We duck and enter the cool dark,
nervous and no matches.
There's a glimmer, a niche,
and beyond—endless blue.
Sentries crouched here, spying
at enemy ships during the occupation.
Old photos show Japanese soldiers
in Nanjing practicing bayonet drills
on bound Chinese prisoners.
From our lookout we spy
white flags of waves
marching in afternoon sun.
We emerge, blinking like newborns.
To our right, Laoshan—Old Mountain—
rises holy and green.
Below, tired Chinese tourists
straggle back to busses.
Here, black butterflies whirl
like bits of paper,
harmless, their occupation
of the hill complete,
the small pages of their wings
chronicling the history
of life and death on earth
in a language lighter than air.


 
 
At the Site of the Underground Missile Silo

         — Lincoln, Montana, for Steve Christenson

1.
Remember how the day ended
in a flash of bright blood?
Just the corny kind of sunset
bad poets adore, and good ones like you.
We left the highway,
drove the quarter mile
red dirt road, stood
in the glare of floodlights
and a tall white totem we guessed
was the monster's guidance system.
The ground hummed.
Something down there snored.
Something down here hissed.
Inside the ring of chain-link
and razor wire shone the hinged lid,
waiting for the day it will fly off
to give terrible birth.
They've buried them everywhere,
you said, all through the heart of the state.
A great white sign glared:
    UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
   THIS AREA UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE
      NO TRESPASSING
Dead of typhoid from infected blankets,
ghosts of Sioux children
danced in one gray cloud.

2.
Night brought a delirium of stars.
We wandered away from the glare, the hum.
You named the constellations:
Andromeda, lonely maiden,
chained forever to her ledge in heaven;
Leo, sphinx-like, gazing
at the black riddle of nowhere;
and the Spiral Nebula, twin of our Milky Way,
smudge of light in the attic of space.

3.
It might be lovely, you said,
like all sunsets combined,
a vast morning glory
opening over a city's markets, beggars and birds.
It might be the pure light of knowing
the dying see finally.

4. Remember JFK?
Missiles in Cuba?
Remember crawling obediently under our desks
hands over our necks?
Mrs. Blandish was blunt:
So that flying glass
won't sever your spinal cord.
Mrs. Blandish, piped one 3rd grader,
what does sever mean?

5.
Steve, all our lives,
the earth has been enemy soil.
Now we've become our fathers,
those distant men who read the news
but never talked about it.
What do you say to Kerri?
Yes, life could end?
My oldest son, Devin, says he thinks
he understands.
He plans to build a laser
to make all bombs disappear,
including the laser.
The other night, Ned, his younger brother,
cried out Mama! in his sleep,
blubbered a tale of panic,
of running a red road in the sky.
Said it turned black, to quicksand.
A monster pulled him under,
pulled his brother and Mama and me under.
It cracked all our bones.
I hold him, whisper It's okay,
Daddy's here, and suddenly I recall
Black Elk's vision of the good red road
his people never found,
and our red road going dark toward the glare,
the hum I can still feel on my neck.

6.
Steve, it's taken me years
of staring at my face
in the window at late hours to learn
that poetry can't teach us to be decent,
can't free us of the slaves we make
of ourselves. A poem is nothing
but the heart's logbook,
a record of our private calms and storms.

Tonight, above my neighbor's sleeping house,
hangs Jupiter, my jewel,
first pointed out to me by you
above that Montana prairie,
a night wild with the smell of sage,
the silo floodlight an unnatural star
behind us.

7.
Remember when earth meant home, life-giver?
Let's make a new language, you and me.
Let's learn again the old words,
the old ways of naming before the world
went nuts and brilliant men discovered
how we might all be cremated at once.
Here are words I love: moss, agate, heron,
silver, peach, madrona, curve ball
and Linda,
word for the woman I love.
And I love those stars you named, changeless
as hope, knitting together past and future,
same points of icy fire our ancient parents
beheld in wonder in Africa by a stream.

Picture an old woman in some far city
we'll never see. She's tired, her feet hurt,
she loves her one geranium on the sill.
Let her stand for every soul in that city,
city like my Seattle or your Boston,
city of parks, ice cream, sorrow.
Imagine that missile in the foothills roaring.
Imagine the silent brilliant flash,
the woman's face at the window, the geranium,
her last look of knowing.
Imagine reciting the foreign name
of every soul in that city, saying Brother,
goodbye. Sister, I prayed it wouldn't be you.


 
 
Rifles

1.
How those killers thrilled me,
looming above Grandma's fireplace,
bayonets in their sheaths,
there with the Christmas cards,
candles, hand-made pine cone wreathes
and two ceramic squirrels.

American-made relics from a lost war,
they rust on nails now in my garage.
Russians used them against Japan, 1905.
In the Solomons, 1942,
Japanese aimed them at GIs.
History always comes home.

She'd pull one down.
At 12 I could barely lift it—
it was taller than me.
I'd seen pictures of soldiers hunkering
through mud or oil or scorched island sand,
the dead washed ashore like kelp.

I'd reverently pull off the sheath.
The foot-long knife still gleamed,
still sharp, its edge nicked by...what?
Along the blade ran a deep groove,
a channel in the bright steel.
That's the blood gutter, this grey-eyed

lover of dahlias explained, who had read
to me Peter Rabbit, Red Riding Hood,
and The Pirate Don Derke of Dowdee.

She'd ram home the bolt.
I'd squeeze the trigger. Click.
The scarred cherry stock

glowed like burnished cordovan.
And what did those four notches mean,
cut with a pocket knife
just beyond the raised sights?
What's it like to shoot and see
a person sprawl? Hours I'd cradle

in my lap this heavy artifact
of family history,
this weary world traveler.
It ended as scrap in a dockside
pile, Okinawa, fall of '45,
Hiroshima and Nagasaki still smoldering.

2.
From alders back of the guest house,
deer would step into Grandma's orchard
to browse on pears, strip the bark
from apple and cherry. Jays would squawk
as if they owned July. A bear
lived in those woods.

I'd lie awake in a top bunk
and listen to rafters whisper,
the rasp of wind in cedars.
I'd lope with my rifle through mud
or oily sand, throw the bolt and fire
at shapes in the guest house window.

Nowhere was lovelier
than Harper Hill in winter.
Snow erased all roads.
With the blue arrival of night,
smoke rose from stone chimneys.
Window lamps cast squares

of light across the drifts.
Inside, the tree she cut herself
bore its tinsel, colored balls
and star. Over the bright fire
hung the rifles, their bayonets
grooved with blood gutters.


 
 
High Country Climb

From an outcrop,
where trees give way to walls of basalt
cracked by small blue flowers,
we rubbed our sunburnt eyes.
Late afternoon, late summer,
we three men in our forties
sipped whiskey from tin cups.

Back of us,
native cutthroats ringed the surface
of the nameless alpine lake,
a black mirror wedged in crags.
Our tent pitched on a polished
granite bulge, our boots hot
and kicked off, we groaned, exhausted,
felt good, we said,
like the gods we were once,
our shoulders raw from pack straps.

A great shadow crawled across
the valley floor, up the glinting ice
of Mt. Daniel, pink in final sun.

And then we talked—this and that:
how, suddenly, we wished our wives were here.
And our kids, off on their own now.
how tired we were of work routine,
the boss, bills, the broken clutch.
How our lives hadn't turned out
quite the way we thought,
and now what to do with our folks,
aged, growing frail.

The mountain swelled,
the whiskey darkened in our eyes.
We joked about blisters on our blisters.
With the evening chill rose
the piny smell of heather.
That final switchback was a killer.
Yeah. Never again. Never again.

Far off, a trout splashed in heaven.
We stretched on still-warm stone,
remembering how stars can swim—
forgetting for a moment they are only
sparks of ice, the world below is heartless,
and tomorrow we must go down.


 
 
Saying the Necessary

I read of a Montana man
whose pickup
stalled in the mountains.
Cross-country skiers
found him next spring,
their skis rasping
on the top of his cab
just showing through the snow.
His engine dead, no map,
he'd apparently decided
to wait for help.
His diary calmly records
his life of being lost.
He describes the passing days,
how he rationed his crackers,
an Almond Joy,
built a few small fires at night,
ate his emergency candles,
ice from a pond,
a pine's green lace of moss.
He hoarded every spark
from his battery.
There's evidence he wandered
up a nearby ridge.
He might have noticed a marmot,
gold and relaxed on a rock,
or spotted mountain goats
wedged high in grey basalt.
From a pinnacle of broken
lichen-colored scree
he watched the world bend away blue,
rivered with trees.
He might have heard
the whine of a plane
in the next valley,
looking, looking.

Then the cold came.
Frostbite settled the matter
of hiking out.
He wrote detailed accounts
of the weather,
noting the clear, icy air,
little flares of stars
drawing no one's attention.
Not so frigid this evening.
A later entry read:
Ribbed cirrus clouds moving in.
Then tender goodbyes
to his wife and daughter—
my lilac, my rose.

When the blizzard buried him,
he wrote by his interior lights,
and when the battery failed
he scratched in the dark
a strange calligraphy,
covering the same pages,
the words telegraphic,
saying only the necessary
as he starved.
In the end,
his script grew hallucinatory—
...toy train... ...oatmeal...
...farmhouse lights just ahead...—
illegible, finally,
like lines on a heart monitor.
Several pages he tore out and ate.

He must have known
even words wouldn't save him.
Still, he wrote.
He watched the windshield
go white like a screen,
his hands on the wheel,
no feeling.
He listened to his heart
repeat its constant SOS,
not loudly now,
but steadily—
a stutterer who's come to love
the sound of his one syllable,
at peace with his inability
to get anything across.
He must have pictured himself
wading through the drifts,
traversing the heartbreaking distance
between voice and any ear,
searching for tracks,
a connector road that leads
down to everyday life.
By glow of moonlight filtered
through snow-jammed windows,
his last act was to place his book,
opened to a page marked Day One,
on the passenger seat beside him.


 
 
A Note to My Sons

Tonight they're far into the country
of sleep. I read Du Fu's letter
to his son, Pony Boy—
tender confession of a father's pain.

Who knows what business may
suddenly call me away.
I'll be parted from them too,
someday, on a trip of my own,

down Rattlesnake Gorge,
across Goose Prairie by twilight,
where I'll enter, alone
and uncertain, Naches Pass.

So I'll say it now:
I miss you, Ned, Mr. Grey Eyes,
mimic and clown;
and Devin, experimenter, searcher,

you beat me at chess—unforgivable.
Though you're in the next room,
someday the distance between us
will be farther than stars.




Mudlark
William Slaughter, Editor
Department of English & Foreign Languages
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645


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Contents | Mudlark No. 13