For My Dad…

In honor of my dad’s birthday today, here is a poem from my first book, The Cardinal Turns the Corner, titled “Dad.” Happy birthday, Dad!

“Dad”

On the mountains at the farthest border of the world,
snow-capped and calling,
I felt my way to the thin line of the edge
and looked down into outer space

where I could see the winds of stars fall asleep
below my scarlet knuckles
as the northern lights, with their tin flame of foil fire,
green and white diamond, filmed the midnight sky.

They told stories like my father,
full of heroes and the beauties they fought for,
as every scene of laughter and of sorrow,
played at once along the measures of their gleaming.

Then I balled a few rags of snow in my grasp
and clenched them hard enough for the cold to slide
into my chest and crack my pounding heart alive
as I rose to my feet and steadied my shaking lungs.

I remember those tales well,
my father sitting by my bedside, holding
oceans and sailing ships with the strength of
his love for me.

And I would follow him anywhere,
through the forestry of childhood,
keeping close to his heels as he
showed me where to go,

well into the iron winters of adulthood
as my stride slowly grew stronger, and
he taught me how to breathe
the mountain air of becoming a father.

For now, as I stand at the peak of this universe,
filled with ice and the sweep of shooting stars,
I turn and see the faces of my own children and my beautiful wife,
looking to me with the smiles of home,

and I know it is time to tell my own stories,
to hold their hands and lead them onward
as they keep close to my heels, and I show them
where to go.

To My Mother on Her Birthday

My mother’s birthday is today, and I wanted to honor her and everything she has done for my family and me by writing this poem for her. Happy birthday, Mom.


I saw her breathing deeply

As I stared through strands of tumbling hair,

Like little wispy veils,

Slurring my sleepy vision as I shivered at her bedside.

I was small and scared and four.

 

My mother’s sleep lay on her thick as quilts,

Lulling her tired bones to the rest of sacred dreams,

Filled with the iron ballast of a day of boundless worship:

Her living room worn by the hymns of an aged vacuum,

Choruses offered as sacred vespers,

The clouds of sunset filling her temple,

My mother’s domestic liturgy.

 

I see her hands fold behind her pillow,

Fingers faded by the baptism of dishes,

The scrape of cereal from the bowl and the wisdom of rags

Wiping away the filth of human failures.

 

Her forehead lightens as her mind replays

The wonders of laughter

And the splattering grace of the evening meal,

Smeared cheeks chewing on the Passover,

Remembrances of a body broken

As my mother’s bends beneath the steam of a swollen oven,

Her electric altar of praise.

 

My little voice whispers through missing teeth

That the dragon in my room was snarling again,

Its bared fangs aching for the taste of boy,

And I needed her to rescue my wet sheets.

 

Her eyes half-closed,

Limbs dangling from the strings of endless love,

She stumbles to the linen closet as I anxiously peer through the dark,

Searching for the twin braids of smoke in the shadows of my urine-stained room,

Trusting in the holy strength of my beautiful mother

Whose arms bear the load of a midnight sacrifice

And whose kiss can slay the dragons.