Your lopsided father stuck
the loose stars to your sky
one summer. Even now
they glow up there, as if,
like you, they are still dumbstruck
by the memory of his hulking grace.
With one foot on the bed, one on
the chest of drawers, his finger
pressed each phosphorescent
shard into eternity, too high
for anyone to tear them down.
It should have busted his ass
to do a thing like that. It did
—that kind of thing—eventually.
“That kind of thing, eventually,
will wear a man’s skin thin,” says mine.
His skin is thin, and mottled
from five decades in the sun,
on a vast green field that only winks
at abundance; does not, in fact,
yield anything up, save little flags
from holes, the occasional sky-borne
alien egg. True enough, he’s burned
his skin to paper for this game.
But he does not, this time, for once,
mean golf. He means grief. That kind
of thing. He means leaving a child
in the ground, all fathers suffer.
In the ground, all fathers suffer
the fate of the warrior. In life,
it’s a sky of tin gods. Each one’s
a private lodestar, lost to all but us.
Whatever they did for a living,
our dads, however they hustled
and failed, they spun silvery roses
from gum foil, and blew Vaudeville
tunes through grass kazoos. And when
they told us how it was, we listened.
We believed their tales were true.
And so, however rent and upside-down
and patched, we flew their flags
until everything real blew away.
Until everything real blew away,
your father’s father’s father raised
a subsistence of cabbages above
the fruited plain. Nothing much
changed when the sky fell on us,
it is said he is said to have said. Only
the high folks got knocked down.
Haha. What could bring a poor man
low, apart from winter? Every soul
piled in one bed with the newspaper
stuffed to plug leaks in the windows.
Still, to be survived by all six children!
His salt-blind headstone seems to read:
God is fair to the faithful who toil!
God is fair to the faithful who toil.
Basically. Complicatedly. Squint
and try to see a version of events
in which good men are not heroic,
only good. Unmask that good
and you may find the face
of a previous father, not so
good. Meanwhile, and always,
and always without knowing why,
a procession of fathers stretches far
as infinity. Each one is in line to carve
his name over his father’s name,
into the stone. It is only a stone,
but it shows them where to stand.
Chelsea Whitton is an internationally published poet and essayist. She is the author of Bear Trap (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in Bateau, Cimarron Review, Forklift-Ohio, Poetry Ireland, Main Street Rag and Stand, among others. Raised in North Carolina, she currently lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Matthew, and their cat, Puck.