From Vinegar Hill, a Small Red Star for Me and My Father by Tom Sheehan

From Vinegar Hill, a Small Red Star for Me and My Father

This appointment came when light tired, this arrangement, this syzygy
. . . .of him and me and the still threat of a small red star standing
. . . . . . . .some time away at my back, deeper than a grain of memory.
I am a quarter mile from him, hard upward on this rugged rock he could
. . . .look up to if only his eyes would agree once more, and it’s a trillion
. . . . . . . .years behind my head or a parsec I can’t begin to imagine,
they tell me even dead perhaps, that star. Can this be a true syzygy
. . . .if one is dead, if one is leaning to leave this line of sight
. . . . . . . .regardless of age or love or density or how the last piece of light
might be reflected, or refused, if one leaves this imposition? The windows
. . . .of his room defer no light to this night, for it is always night there,
. . . . . . . .blood and chemicals at warfare, nerve gone, the main one
providing mirror and lethal lens, back of the eyeball no different
. . . .than out front, but I climb this rock to line up with another rock and him
. . . . . . . .in the deep seizure of that stolen room, bare sepulcher,
that grotto of mind.

Today I bathed him, the chest like an old model, boned but collapsible,
. . . .forgotten in a Detroit back room, a shelf, a deep closet, waiting
. . . . . . . .to be crushed at the final blow, skin of the organ but a veneer
of fatigue, the arms pried as from a child’s drawing, the one less formidable
. . . .leg, the small testes hanging their forgotten-glove residuum,
. . . . . . . .which had begun this syzygy, the face closing down on bone
as if a promise had been made toward an immaculately thin retrieval,
. . . .and, at the other imaginable end of him, the one foot bloody
. . . . . . . .from his curse, soured yet holier in mimicry of the near-Christ
(from Golgotha brought down and put to bed, after god and my father
. . . .there are no divinities), toenails coming on a darkness no sky owned,
. . . . . . . .foot bottom at its own blood bath, at war, at the final and resolute war
with no winner.

Oh, Christ, he’s had such wars, outer and inner, that even my hand
. . . .in warmth must overcome, and he gums his gums and shakes his head
. . . . . . . .and says, sideways, mouth screwed into his outlandish grin,
as much a lie as any look, as devious, cold-fact true, “I used to do this for you,”
. . . .the dark eyes hungry to remember, to bring back one moment
. . . . . . . .of all those times to this time; and I cannot feel his hand linger on me,
not its calluses gone the way of flesh or its nails thicker now than they
. . . .ever were meant to be, or skin flaking in the silence of its dust-borne battle,
. . . . . . . .though we are both younger than the star that’s behind us
and dead perhaps, as said; then, in a moment, and only for a moment,
. . . .as if all is ciphered for me and cut away, I know the failure
. . . . . . . .of that small red star, its distillation and spend still undone,
its yawn red as yet and here with us on the endless line only bent
. . . .by my imagination, the dead and dying taking up both ends of me,
. . . . . . . .neither one a shadow yet but all shadows in one, perhaps
a sort of harmless violence sighting here across an endless known.

by Tom Sheehan

 

Editor’s Note: Allegory is impressively put to use in this poem to convey the relationship between the narrator and his father. Upon careful examination, the reader will also find repetition and internal rhyme, but the true heart of this poem lies with the narrative. Life can be complex and longer than expected, but it is always surprising, both at the beginning and the end.

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