My Father Asks If We're Dead
Perhaps because of
her turquoise eyes, voice the sweet echo
of her mother’s, my sister pries open
our tightlipped father easier than I, the workhorse
of doing who cleans his hearing aids, pays
the phone bill, the rent at assisted living.
Their visits end in tears; he calls her, pleading:
Where am I? Am I dead? Are you? His loneliness
waits in an otherwise busy station of bad florescence,
tobacco stains, workaday faces flashing past
to adventure, the bus or train he flags down
slowed to its last stop.
We steady his steps
but cannot join him in the departure line,
not for long, ours the rush of faces to elsewhere
as he calls Hello, hello, is there anyone left?
We cannot return him to the arched porch
of his grandparents’ stone house on N. Second
in east Nashville or the bungalow off Shaw AFB
where he yelled through five-card stud in the throes
of Hurricane Hazel. We cannot nail his papery
memory, like a lunch menu, to the wall, repeating
peas, repeating okra. We cannot even know
whether we live or die in this warp of time
and blank sorrow, whether to sing out loud
or pinch ourselves when we walk from
his darkened room into bright midday,
half-blind, half-crazed for life.