Thursday, January 21, 2010




You could be dead by now.

How would I know?

Last time I saw you

was fifty-five years ago.

My first day of school.

Your last with us.

You’re the little man now, Paddy,

you said

then got on a greyhound bus

in front of Tang’s Pagoda

as I watched the door close

on that fuselage without wings

as if the whale had just swallowed Jonah whole.

The last time I noticed we had the same eyes.

The end of your reign of terror.

As I remember you fifty-five years later

you were brutal, violent, cruel,

a con-man and a drunk. 

You hurt people then laughed at their pain.

You were the lethal meltdown of a radioactive brain

that made the grass glow at night

from thousands of miles away

and poisoned the rain.

I went to jail with my mother to bail you out

more often than I was pushed into going to church.

And when you got out

you were always as angry as a killer bee

in the soggy autumn orchard of your hangover.

Life for you as it is for any coward

was one long complaint you took out on us.

My first seven years

I watched as many ambulances

take my shattered mother away for months

as many cop cars washing up on our doorstep

with all those messages in a bottle

that had your name on them

like a federal warrant for your arrest

as I recall the clinking horse-drawn milkwagons

with their coloured cardboard bottle caps

or the tinkling neighbourhood ice-cream trucks.

Remembering you now at this late date

is like fingering the fossils of a Tyrannosaurus Rex

and feeling the faint resonance

of your ferocity even yet

through my fingertips

like a warm-blooded mammal

in the menacing shadow of a reptilian law

whose last judgment was always a jugular in a jaw.

If you’re dead,

if you’re truly dead,

did you die alone?

Did anyone grieve?

Did you change over the years

and become a good man

as righteous as the stroke of midnight

and atone for anything

before you boarded the next bus for the abyss?

Was your last flashback of life

the sunami you drowned in

after your psychological fault lines

flintknapped an earthquake

that brought the whole planet down on us

everytime you barged through the door

back from the bar

and turned a home into an avalanche?

Did you remember your children?

Did you remember me?

Did you ever wonder

how I turned out without you?

Who knows?

Maybe I’m way too late for your funeral

and this wreath of blood and thorns I bring

to lay on your grave

like the bitter irony you fathered in me

is not a fitting obsequy for either of us

because maybe, possibly, improbably

as you aged like an acid

time defanged your thunder

like a white cottonmouth

and the moon took back its crescents

and the lightning began to make crutches of the trees

it used to split like cedar shakes

with double-bladed bolts of light

that scorched so much more

than they ever illuminated in the darkness they returned to. 

As if the whole of the little earth I knew then,

my mother, me, my brother, my sisters

sported the wounds you gashed

on everyone’s heart and a skull

like chopping blocks

under your bloodied blunted war-ax.

For longer than autumn’s been keeping time now

with rosaries of geese in passage

like the secret names

of God on the run

for bouncing rubber cheques,

I have carried you around inside of me

like a chromosome in a coffin.

It’s a kind of genetic locket

I sometimes open 

to remember you by

when I’m mythologizing my scars

like blackholes among the stars

or the empty eyesockets

on the wailing walls of the dice

you loaded like the prophetic skulls of a bad choice. 

And I still don’t know if I’ve come

like an eviction notice

to this dismal place

to condemn you

or exorcise your ghost

I have despised you for so long within me

like the sloughed skin of a snakey oilslick,

the black blood of a haemmoraging eclipse

that covers everything like an executioner’s hood,

the birds, the sun, the sea,

every tarnished cell of me

in a darkness that won’t wash off.

Or maybe I’ve just shown up again

like Empedocles on Aetna

to jump into the collapsed caldera of your grave

like the last flower.

Ambiguous homage with seven kinds of meaning

to a spent volcano

buried in itself

that once knew how to preserve the dead

in all the twisted shapes of prolonged agony

that has characterized the living ever since.

Every day of my life

I have wanted to give you back your name

like a white cross on a black plague door

that isn’t me anymore

and never was.

Or maybe I should

jump down into your grave and say

Hey, Dad, isn’t this sad for you and me

this is the way we take leave of each other for good

like chainsaws snarling through the heartwood of the family tree?

Isn’t it just so incomparably sad

that a son being honest as a deathbed

with his father as he dies

over and over again in his imagination

as I do now here beside you

should lean over and whisper into his father’s ear

with a heavy heart that regrets it was ever born to mean it

Hey, Dad, I want you to know

when it’s my time to go

and I get to the other side

of all that was

and can be abandoned

time will heal everything

you did and didn’t do

and all these severed bloodlines

reach their final watershed,

all the weak threads

of what was unbound

like rain in the river

fall into the flowing 

and be made whole as strong rope again,

and the eye that offended be plucked out

and an old fist be opened up like the new palm

of a better afterlife than the one we had here,

and reunited families everywhere

break bread together in love and laughter

and every father be a strong rafter

and every mother be a lamp in a tent

and a cool night wind

as intimate and near

as stars in a desert,

and every son

say farewell to his father

as I do now here beside you

on this re-useable illusion of a death bed

where I am trying so hard to listen

to the voices in my heart

instead of the wise-guys in my head:

Father, farewell.

You gave me these empty eyes.

My mother filled them with compassion.

May peace marrow your troubled bones at last

and God soften the stone

upon which you lay your head.

What has passed has passed

like a storm out over open water.

You were my father at noon.

I was your son at midnight.

You withdrew like a shadow

that dreaded the light.

May God grant you a deeper insight

into these lives

we pass along to one another

like candles in the doorway of a dark night

and the courage to see

when they’re blown out

and death comes to sever even this little thread

of earthbound lucidity

that exists like blood between you and me

why even if these eyes of yours you gave me

were washed up like the survivors of a shipwreck

on the eyelids of the same shores

we started out from together,

asked whose son I might be

and who among all the generations

of the unborn and unperishing gathered there

was the road that fathered my journey,

I would answer

my life was a river with only one bank

that flowed from a sea of shadows on the moon.

I would embrace my mother in tears

if I saw her standing there

for all the long, hard, humiliating years

she always sat on the edge of the bed

the last thing at night

before we fell asleep under her eyes

and quietly lowered herself down

like a ladder into a snakepit

so we could climb out

without getting bit by the same viper

that had struck her like black lightning

in the heel in an orchard in spring.

About you I wouldn’t say anything.

I’d swallow my voice like a sword.

I wouldn’t sacrifice a word

on the altar of the silence

that waited like a god

to hear himself named.

I’d shake my head.

I wouldn’t look for you among the dead.