My father like every good father
has fingers sturdy as boulders.
Like boulders they make no sound.
Every morning he buttons his shirt
in the dark. He won’t take notice
if the cat spends the night hunting
and drops a cockroach at his feet.
Whenever he steps out, the hall light
catches his face. Casts it back
to my mother. A jaw line so straight
she will take him for a man who lives
by the sound of clock gears alone.
A man with no time for music, ergo empty.
Ergo he cannot be my source. And yet.
My father brought a song to my cradle.
First I had to bring him home. One: set
a chair in the hall. Two: call the elevator.
Three: wait. I called and called again
until my father like ever good father at last
returned. When the doors opened onto him
he felt like a thing I’d drawn from a well.
What we sang was a fictional anthem
for a fictional man. One to show love
of country even as he flees. I’d say Father.
What is Edelwiess? A white flower of course.
And fuzzy. Like the cat? No, not like the cat.
Think more like the moss that covers a stone.
Or your baby sister’s head when you take it
into your hand. He dimmed the lamp and sang
once more. So my sleep dissolved him.
Selma Erwin has been dead now
some years. Twice she touched me.
After breakfast she turned my wrist
and dropped a moth into my hand.
When I think of her skin, I don’t
think of her skin but of my hand
dressed in powder from the wing.
When my mother smells lavender
she says her name. I hear Selma
was born in a house with roses so fat
the florist came to strike up a deal.
Her father died early and her mother
walked her slowly through the garden
and then sent her from the house.
I say her eyes were yellow beryl.
My mother says aquamarine.
She was married in a house that burned.
After lunch she brought me to the chimney
which stood alone. She asked me to unclip
her hair and handed me her tortoise comb.
Photos: Laura G. Duncan.