Online Exclusive

09.24.05
Arc XX: Paterfamilia

“Pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons …”
—Henry Beston


1. 

Of surrender or denial, surrender and denial
what voice will you offer to the dead
what alphabet to the suffering. 


My father’s head 
dis- 
                     embodied— two
                years in memory
           a meridian drawn down 
                          my daughter’s spine. 

What location to turn
     to—here there is always 
    the return—inevitable 
      first song. 
 






2.

Nothing is as we
    left it. February 
   returns—

    time without odor
   the door removed
      from its frame

Judas bush beneath the window … 
    cold brown earth
      around the rim of ash. I 
   scattered him there—and watched 
            as rain soaked down. 



 




3.

Merely to submit to 
    days as they come. A is for
   Ash Wednesday—St. Anthony—
      a man’s brow smeared 
            at dusk. 


 




4. 

What can we remember—
    April rains
   her tummy hurts she says. 
      White belly
    underneath blue
      “long days passed like this.” 


 




5. 

Outside and in. The 
child’s scream 
      “shivering with shame …”
      a mirror 
         cast back 40 years.


 




6.

God is in 
     shadow—
    we can only 
     ask meager recompense—
      say what you will. 


 




7. 

“larks of heaven perch and nothing”

Your happiness—false
     starts— 
      trapping sorrow 
     & joy together. 
      We remain so
     ignorant—
      mired in loss. 


 




8.

    “if you don’t 
want us who will …” 

    My daughter’s voice 
   raised—afraid or 
      ashamed to 
    say, “you don’t have to 
        punish us … we 
      only know so much” 


 




9.

    Dead limbs and 
   cardinal flowers. I envisioned
      “the moment of trees & the 
    suddenness among 
        thwarted winds”

In the briefest way … asking you here. 


 




10. 

    Walking ahead
   we risk 
     losing the way—her 
      voice in mind.

Sun at the water’s edge
      —capitalize each first letter—
     down to the level 
      with water

   I chastised no one
     & turned—shamelessly—
on a pivot of vast 
      immured time.



 




11.

   Her head sunk
  into me—
     my daughter takes her 
   hand—runs it
      down my leg—
   is odd—to be taken care
     of— fatherless now— here
                              at all. 


 




12.

“That’s the day
  penciled out” 
      over and done—scribbled 
    between the lines—
        “Father … where 
       you going?” 


 




13.

What did she 
mean—“There could 
   be such a thing as 
     too much feeling” 

Following others into the world
   back again to these 
several rooms—

My heart isn’t 
   vacant—no longer
  virtuous. One’s body 
      inclining past 40—
     resolute 
                at each passing wave. 


 




14.

“The crow wish’d
    every thing was 
   black—
      the owl
that every 
   thing was white”

   On the floor 
  atop news
     papers—

arms loosely
        falling against
      smooth grain skin.


 




15.

    Morning the body 
   is hers—or mine 
      alone—seen 
  or unseen—“I see
      your pee-pee” 


   In childhood
physicality without 
      shame—sweet 
    transience—mortal
           light of
      daybreak—


 




16.

     Yesterday you came 
                     back—

   vigilant in your time

          —not to say
       we are healed—but transposed 
   as if you knew that accord 
                   could be reached … 

     I studied your face 
      as you knelt 
     beside my daughters— 
                sinecure of the 
      feminine— 
                clot of shadow. 


 




17. 

    “I didn’t mean 
   to say any thing—
      you hadn’t given me
   the chance, it was 
       just silence—”


  A form of greeting 
      nude in the starlight 
  endless wild uprush 
             of your hand 
    in parting. 


 




18.

    A cloud 
   cusp of silver 
     downdrafts of wind—
season come to its
       close—

      “a half-moon
   over lights in the west—
          shadows of birch
    against the sky.” 

—20 February 2005 

Andrew Mossin's book of critical essays, Male Subjectivity and Poetic Form in "New American" Poetry, was published in April (Palgrave Macmillan 2010). He has recently completed a work of autobiographical prose, The Presence of Their Passing, and is currently at work on a new collection of poems, The Pledge. He teaches in the Writing Program at Princeton University and lives in Doylestown, PA with his two daughters.