so many ways our fathers mark us

    (for kirpal and christopher)

    so many ways our fathers mark us

    each syllable of bone, phrasing of flesh
    the skin we put on, a way of letting our fathers speak
    through and for us, with each other,
    always a hair's breadth away from refusal

    and later the heft and weight of language,
    oar and rudder on the palate, finding our own
    stained grammar in the wood-ash of their passing
    heaving their smoking axes on our tongues

    as the shadowy wings behind our mothers
    reminders also that memory turns to seed

    in beatings and beratings, in carefully counted cane-strokes
    which sting on my thigh twenty years after their fading

    he may tell you the names of angsana, balsam, cherry blossom
    he may teach you the meaning of bereft

    you may never become him
    though you spend your life running to catch up
    already he is in the distance, waving with his arms
    (which you think beckon you forward): go elsewhere

    each year you reach less to kiss him
    there is less fur to tug at, and more snow

    each year he takes one more step into the storehouse of images
    he takes his place among the harried shopkeepers, the angels
    and fallen kings, the sleeping heroes and carpenters

    often we mark our fathers down
    you put down the book and he is there
    eyes on an elsewhere outside of you

    only when you nudge the door open on an empty room
    do you truly hear him
    the dust whispers it; your footsteps form the vowels

    every day you relearn his name
    as you clear your throat to speak

26 January 2004   19:30 hours
for S.H. vs G.B., 5000 years hence { } an early valentine's, 12 years late