The Slope of Evening

March 3, 2018

1.

My father, he’s telling me

the nurses are trying to kill him,

with poison.

 

We’re in his hospital in Cooperstown

in a small room overlooking the swift,

clear beginnings of the Susquehanna.

 

After a coughing fit, his eyes

search the room until he finds mine,

tell me in a drowning whisper to drive

around back, wait until the nurses change shifts;

then we are to wheel him out, hitch the bed

to the bumper of the Country Squire

we no longer own. He wants us

to tow him the 150 miles home.

 

This is our rock speaking.

This is the man who always made the world

seem like a safe place, or manageable,

if you know how to move through it with wit.

 

You should have seen our faces,

later that night, when we viewed

his still, breathless body,

the nurse removing the last

of the needles from his spent arms.

 

 

2.

Last year, my son got his driver’s license,

his first girlfriend, his first car accident

and his first break up.

 

Can we talk about the straying angels

and the mysterious ways of God?

 

When he’s in a gentle mood, my son

calls me Pa. I call him Son.

But mostly he’s gone these days,

driving off in his rust-flaked teen truck

at the first invitation to shape some

crooked pathway in the anyplace

of near-pure immediacy.

 

3.

My silent prayer of love:

 

Oh, Saints What and Whomever,

patrons of those unhitched

by one instinctive twitch

after another, bend and whisper

kind words to all children

set adrift in your maelstrom of years.

Let them find their moments,

range far, but turn near.

 

 

4.

It’s 1945 and my father has to take a crap so bad.

Bogies strafe the carrier.

 

A passing typhoon has churned up everything.

All the men are doing their part.

 

It’s one of those days, if you insist on honor

you insist on death.

 

In the stall, finding no toilet paper,

my father pulls up his pants, curses the Japanese empire.

 

When he’s three strides out the door,

a bomb strike obliterates the head, sends him airborne.

 

After the battle, shattered planes awash in the sea,

smoke curling up from damaged ships,

 

exhausted, still-alive men to shocked to feel,

my father, half-concussed and bleeding, drops

 

his soiled pants overboard.

They hit the water silently,

 

disappear

in the ship’s broad wake.

 

 

5.

It’s funny how alone one can feel

in a room, riding the slope of evening.

 

The light is fading without comment or care.

And I’m think about the sea…

The way we ride upon it.

The way it’s rising. 

 

I put the kettle on the stove,

heating the water for tea.

Toni Morrison’s book, Beloved

was named the best book of the past 25 years.

Twenty-five years ago my son was born.

 

In those early months, I jogged with him up and down

the stairs in the middle of the night

trying to sooth his colic, aiming

 

to take away the deep pain and sadness —

that he might know love and swim some day

with the pure joy of being alive

on this galactic pinprick of a planet.

 

Out the window this evening,

a cardinal sings to the dying light.

Out the window, the burning bush is still turning

in the darkening shade of the house.

The last of the sunlight angles in, stroking the treetops,

before the sky shifts from gray blue to gray.

A cat slips past, eyes the cardinal.

The water for tea is boiling.

I pour it into a cup.

 

Over the past 25 years,

only three of the books I’ve read

have made it onto the “best” books list.

 

It’s OK. I suppose I want it that way —

to explore the back eddies of our culture.

 

My son is getting married soon.

Soon he’ll own a dog and a house,

know the long slog of daily work.

 

The sea is rises…

 

Did you know that once,

all that was left of the hominids

was a small band?

We almost didn’t make it.

 

I miss my father.

Although he lived by the water,

I never saw him get in a boat.

 

 

6.

On a rare day, my son and I visit a museum,

stare at Rothko rectangles: those signature

abstract variations in oil, acrylic, egg.

Rothko abandoned titles after a while.

Said, as if speaking broadly through a brush,

“Silence is so accurate….” He never

 

mentioned the hints of luminosity

in the subtly combating colors.

But surely he knew. Surely he knew

that each piece was as much mirror as art,

as much want as truth. Horizons of the mind

morphing into horizons of the mind.

Penetrable. Impenetrable. Penetrable.

 

Such art is easy to love and not know what one loves.

 

I say something about the orange rim

in a piece titled Untitled (1953) — the way

the orange rises, a kind of bright menace giving way

to black-violet and black, which is, as always,

anything. I say

 

I love the way each rectangle has its own kind of sheen.

I know I mean it because I wait expectantly for response.

 

We get a pricy lunch in the cafeteria,

talk about music and the funny thing his friends

have done with all that old stuff in the barn.

 

 

7.

I know my father worked hard for his paycheck.
I know he went to church.

I know he needed his space to think.

In his college photograph, he has

a different middle name that the one

I knew him by. There’s a story there.

He didn’t tell me any stories.

 

 

8.

Ninety-eight percent of our thoughts are repeats.

Eighty percent of those repeated thoughts are negative.

 

Our margins are drawn in charcoal.

 

 

9. 

An owl speaks out

on the subject of courage,

deep in the woods.

It is the only sound.

 

A boy and his father and his

father’s father stand close

while all around them

maple flowers sweep down.

 

Together they descend

into the understory,

to a tangle of wild grapevines,

toward the cocksure call.

 

What they want

is to solve little mysteries

together, with words

as simple as gestures.

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