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I have love
And a child,
A banjo
And shadows.

It was the light, always the light.
First, that absent early hour
when he woke to find the world made strange,
knocked awry,
as if creation had suddenly undone itself,
the landscape dishonored by this loss.
The dawn moved haltingly toward day.
He would have seen the sunlight visit briefly
the broad wall of the barn, watched
its white shine on the whispery grass,
bleached by this pale midwinter.
The old faiths buried in the cold.
Perhaps if he’d been born a different man,
in a different time—
inhabitant of one of his ancestors’ God-filled villages,
those praying towns—
he might have broken their rules,
hurled a great noyse, howled his grief,
blue and wild and blue—
painted his savage cheeks with deep black tears.

But here he can note only the roosters’ shrill,
unnatural cries, meaningless for him.
The world seems loose. Horizonless.
I cannot get it nearer to me, he’ll write.
He can only name the things his son’s small hand
once held: the stove wood, the hammer,
microscope, magnet, the little globe.
The wicker wagon frame—
as if this naming could restore
some liveliness to the silent, smothering snow.
Oh, that beautiful boy! someone heard him breathe
in the last fevered hours before his death.
But I see him years earlier, on his solitary walks.
A tall man with a kind face. A little stooped.
He wears in summer a worn straw hat.
His boy is with him still—
For how could such love be wasted?
But always at a distance now,
a figure small and tenuous and far away,
too far, sometimes, to be recognized,
like the sound of a train in the night.
A tender head just glimpsed above the waist-high
weeds, the yellow smear of goldenrod and aster.
Or in winter, that phantom shape on the icy pond,
that child at the end of the line of skaters,
floating past in the day’s last light—
or a sense of something that still fills
the book-lined room where he sits to write.
He’ll turn his face almost imperceptibly
toward the open window,
the air cool and clear, the sun angled low.
This untroubled cast of early spring—
and these small mercies, eternally offered—
this father’s always changing weather.


for Rick Wile



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