Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), February 2005: for Jones Wright Pegram, my maternal grandfather, and spoken in my mother’s voice. Several details are fictionalized: she trained as a psychologist, not a medical doctor, for instance, and I don’t know for certain that Jones was ever pastor of a church; but this is mostly an accurate depiction of their relationship. Published in my books If I Could Be the Stone and Wings of the Gray Moon, and in the local zine Central Avenue.
We are a big enough family
to do most things, except become smaller.
The old man in this bed swordfighting the air,
backing off from its assault,
has been various smooth and harsh things to many of us
and now is various things inside,
something about the kidneys giving way,
holes melted in the stomach by a lifespan’s sour mind.
He wakes panting and the eyes wheeling wall to wall
and croaks dreams: he’s driving
up to a red light he knows means stop
for everyone but him, the cars ahead
like a clotted passing train, his shoe on the gas.
He’s a bird looking a mile down into streets like a machine,
city streets they must be (the man’s never seen the city),
some crazy-stacked overpass maze, but then oh!
he’s a man not a bird, and that wakes him.
I am his eldest daughter,
which hasn’t been good for anyone.
His church was the kind where only the walls are nude,
the pewbacks level as farmer’s rows
or his back, marching after the team, his
back to the bed, the last pulpit.
I wanted curves and dark cups, bewilderments of hillsides.
I guessed the plainness of things was fooling.
I had fox’s nose and ears.
A good farmer has nothing for a fox but a gun.
There was enough father in him that he broke his on his knee
and didn’t reload. Once it sank in
that God meant a fictitious nuisance to me,
that I would only lay my faith in what I could rub myself against,
the further steps were gentler: med school
in the fellowship of niggers (at least a doctor
you could avoid calling Mister), my flight
to the perverse Yankee states,
my children doomed to be smaller than their cousins.
I don’t know why I’m sitting here
unless to honor the way he sat and never spoke
well or ill of me, in the uncomprehending rocker
and the Bible at his eyes.
A mere thing to give
but in this bed years ago he must’ve given mere things to my mother
from his lean fierce shanks to start the multitude of us,
And this was his love,
that bare no-comment, and now these hurtling dreams,
his breaths feinting at him and
closing in, closing in.