I see you, Father,
when the snakes came
green under the covers,
they came damp
my twelve-year-old thighs
with open mouths,
while just across the sheetrock
that barn in France
burned to the ground again
on your watch.
There’s the slippered scuff
of your tartan flannels,
dowdy and warm
with the smell of the bed;
your soldier’s eyes,
methadoned and mild.
A simple thing,
the comfort of a child.
How does the world come to be
out of nothing?
You hold out your hand,
and light strafes the mystery;
in uplight - this face
has known the enemy.
“Come out, you bloody sack rat!”
(you said things only I could hear)
Windows rattle in their frames,
but the cocked fist
costs your legs; you struggle
up the footboard, clutching
at your chest. It is for me
you heave to stand. Now the gnarls
of your broken hands
take the corners of my sheet
and the night air snaps
like laundry on a line
as white wings rise.
I feel the flap of a bird
trapped in my bed. For you,
I bellow strength
to climb the air,
and when I let go,
the pale shroud falls like sleep.
I still see
how it slews and banks
across the brightening,
to land at last, my father,
at your feet.
You say you’ve never seen his face?
After the steam and babble of Lucky Dragon,
the words ring out across the empty lot
as clear as a call from a desert minaret.
The asphalt sparkles in the dark like broken glass
as we move along in sepia,
forgiven, for now, the detail of the day.
Then tell me what you see.
The hood of your sweatshirt tips to the sky;
every upturned face is innocent.
Well there’s a ring of craters at two o’clock;
the light parts are mountains, and the seas are dark.
You shrug. It’s just the way the rock cooled
when it left the earth five billion years ago.
There is no such thing as time.
We are still standing there
looking out on that winter night.
You brush the hair out of your eyes,
silver beneath the man in the moon,
I can almost see your face.
Janet Ford has lived in the Brushy Mountains of western North Carolina for over forty years, where she has made a home, raised two sons, and taught English in public schools. She has published in Great Smokies Review, Poetry South and The New Southerner, and she received the 2017 Guy Owen Prize from Southern Poetry Review.