19 June, 2011

Riddles for My Father

Whatever we see when awake is death;
when asleep, dreams.

               — Heraclitus

He began in Colorado.
Anyplace he loved was home.
His breath scarred by cigarettes
was a rough-barked branch;
an orphaned owl hunched there,
amber eyes cradling a banked fire.

The moon was new all of his life.
The stars trafficked in secrets.

Only the earth woke in his hands
that were strong as barn-door hinges,
and he savored the give and take
of seed and harvest. His nightmare:
an upright pitchfork forgotten
deep in a mound of hay.

But always there was a horse
snorting in its damp stall,
and a saddle on the stall rail,
and not far off some mountains,
and canyons a man might live
another life in, and rivers he might
step into and out of at will....

(He’d never have heard Heraclitus
in those lines, for who in our family
would have loved such riddles
but me? I knew he’d declare them
dark and not to be trusted—so
I always held my tongue.)

Now he sleeps in the earth,
in that long dreamless house
clods drummed down on
like hooves. His face
is a new moon, and all
that was starry in him flies
like a dry beam of light
away from me. His hands
lay like broken sheaves
at his sides.

I’m awake.
And Heraclitus
is ashes in my mouth.

~ ~ Joseph Hutchison

 The Rattling Wall, Issue 1 (Spring 2011).