Voice of the Father

Often, as mother bent her slender back
to the fields, or pulled the bloody slip
of a lamb into the world,
I wandered through the house,
watching motes of dust brought to life
by sunlight—I was looking for you.
And though you were near—
in the picture on the piano, in the looping
scrawl on your old calendar, in that finger’s width
of black hair tucked in an envelope
by mother’s bed—I never found you,
never opened the door
that led to the cool room where you knelt
with your rag, where the polished wood of rifles
gleamed and the soap smell of oil
laddered the air.
                       Yet you spoke to me.
When I climbed the piano bench
and wiped dust from the glass, you said Look,
I charm the great dark bird from the sky,
I wear a tie and hold your mother at the waist,
I am this perfect hand of cards.

When I pulled the calendar from the wall
and rubbed my grubby fingers across your script,
you said, See the price of lambs
last year, get a nickel better if you can.
The battery in the old truck should last
until you’re fourteen. For the best meat,
drop a doe after the first frost.
And when I snuck
into mother’s lonely room of rumpled sheets,
opened the yellow envelope, and touched your hair
to my lips, you said, I have left you.

Joe Wilkins, though born and raised in eastern Montana on a stretch of high prairie everyone calls the Big Dry, now teaches writing at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. His work has been recently published, or is forthcoming, in the Georgia Review, the Missouri Review, Tar River Poetry, Pleiades, Orion, and Boxcar Poetry Review, among other literary magazines. (jwilkins40@hotmail.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761