for my father
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for a man
as he goes up in flames, his one work
to open himself, to be
You lift your oxygen mask to ask if I see a dead pigeon
on the burnt loam
and when I shake my head, you stare cold into hospital
light and say
that once your eleven-year-old hands caught a pigeon, held
its body down and sliced
wings from thorax, then left the bird to wrench on red ground.
When you held the trophy wings
to the boys who dared you, the crowd cheered, another boy
lit a match to the pigeon’s
body and you stood still holding those wings in the smolder.
How everyone wanted
to be your friend. You tell the story in small breaths,
how no one knew
you cried yourself to sleep for three weeks and you were glad
when the rains came,
took to your room and glued model airplanes.
As you sunk back into the gurney’s buckle, I listened to your staggered
breath, pictured each lung
a vessel of black snowflakes, an envelope containing a sentence
from the hell you could not excavate
but I asked you to breathe the black ash out and as we breathed
into that antiseptic night,
you said you could see your breath smolder, began to cough the rattle
from your chest
until morning when your fever broke, when the nurse brought me coffee
and said, Happy New Year,
took you for your morning walk, and I was a child again running down
the empty street,
a filament of blue confetti at my feet.
In April we don’t speak of December, and you say you have
no memory of that night.
I don’t mention your story, don’t ask if it’s true, don’t beg for proof
today in the garden where a pigeon sweeps
down to eat a crumb and as April makes me forget the scars
of December, I throw a piece of bread and see you
stare as I stoop to peer into the nervous fidget of the pigeon’s eye.
Originally published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 2