If memory starts at birth I was born on the back stairs
as you wrapped your arms around me
saying it was better this way for him at least
that it was instant as in no pain as in—
your father didn’t know he was dying
but there must have been a moment of clarity
somewhere not unlike the nightmares that came after
where I felt him pressing on my chest
or that anxious feeling that drew me into bed with you like a bird
folding in on itself inside my stomach
Barely sleeping. The bed
an altar I waited in and the window beside it,
a sheet of glass that became
the body, dreaming. Mother, what was I before this?
Each night I’d ask you what to think about, my hands
reaching for his shape
in the dark. I’d hang my clothes from the door
like I was dressing his ghost. Then—
a fist, blood-soaked from the other side,
a painted sleeve I’d raise my arm through.
I knew where my imagination could take me,
so I tried to exhaust it. Remember
the summer I’d stay up till the sun’s first light, lacing
my shoes in the dark? Those mornings,
I’d run along the overpass, to the Bay, watching the planes
land, slipping into the horizon just now
opening. In the picture of us before I knew
what death was, he’s holding my hand
on that small beach. I see the runway turning in the sky
behind us, the tarmac
glimmering in the distance
like the surface of the water.
Where are you, my beloved?
I am right here.
I found you
from nearly every angle,
become soft, become
edgeless. Your body
not ash, or water
or language, but—
Yes. I wanted to say
something about windows
in empty rooms, why we sit
in our two solitudes
not touching. How I can waste
whole days holding your uniform open
to the wind. I remember
nothing of those years, only that I began
hearing myself like music
in the bodies of others. And in the dream,
I saw you moving. But really,
it was the moving I saw, not you.
Hallway: unconscious, out of focus.
I know wherever they took my father looked like this—
a voice sliced open, a scream
I could live in, the child
running toward the horizon
until he runs out of the frame
completely, and the only thing left—
his mother, falling to her knees in the yard
again and again, as if it were some kind
of ceremony, her hands
digging into the earth,
as if they already knew where
to find him, as if she didn’t want them
Ask me if I want to see
pictures of myself, passed out, somewhere
between what was
and what could have been.
Give me the chance to refuse.
I don’t know what happened.
The ambulance lighting up
the far window of my past, a voice
Your father was here too.
Did he even have a chance?
Did they look him in the eye
when he called out for me? Did they tear open
his shirt too,
blood-soaked and vacant?
When I wake from my oblivion,
is it my father pushing me out the door
or my mother pulling me close? Mother,
making her bed every night
until she just doesn’t care.
How could I have left her?
The word father
means nothing now.
Like these lines traced back
into air, my hands
as if I could hold them.
What I miss most
is myself, having waited,
given away for so long,
whatever I was going to become.
Hear me out:
what I thought meant death
was just one body
telling its story
to the next. We kept
him dead inside us
but that shouldn’t really count
for anything, should it?
Otherwise, what am I
wasting my time here for?
I guess what I’m saying
is that I believe
I will see him again.
Our bodies, wet with light.
I believe I have seen it.
echolalic. My father,
sitting in darkness
at the edge of his bed,
saying, Do I feel this unreachable
to you? If only I could touch
that voice and stand
and walk into the next room.
Where I wrote light on the page
I swear I typed your name, your mouth
flickering and ready, like mother calling
just to hear my voice. Through the door in the dream
you open and fall to your knees. How are you, then,
my love asks. The warm reel looping back
around itself, the river of her hair laid out before me,
and in my past I can go anywhere.
I can go anywhere you are.
Photograph of Michael Dhyne by Bobby Elliott.