IN CERTAIN LIGHTS
On the day-trip to Linesville, my son
pretends to sleep in the back seat, tries
to ignore my father, up front with me,
who names every church and cemetery we pass,
the people he's married and buried in each.
If my father's mind were a garden,
every morning something new would grow and still
he would know the name of every vegetable.
In this dream-garden, my mother stands among
the sharp utensils of harvest, ready to commit
their summer's labor to the variegated jars
lining the basement walls with liquid light.
Why has my father brought us here?
The carp at Pymatuning have little in common
with ordinary fish like the knife-edged trout
that carve through water. Bloated,
with vacuum-cleaner mouths, they swallow
at once whole loaves of day-old bread the tourists
toss from the walkways. On Tuesdays
the truck from the catfood factory comes down
to haul away its nameless mess of fish.
My father has seen this before
so it doesn't surprise him: miracle of fish in air,
violence of water and light in the awful nets.
The next day, over P.S. 34, innumerable dark birds
are practicing end-sweeps they someday
will use to take over the city. Often,
on summer evenings, my mother watches
their rising up and settling back,
their troubled exercises over the church
where my father has preached for thirty years.
Swift or swallow? Too small for starlings?
My father would know. My mother, who doesn't hear
the question, only sweeps her arm across the glass
as if she were tossing to the birds
a handful of nothing but grace notes.
On the time zone's western edge, the days
last longer than they do out east.
After their mutual 80th birthday dinner,
in what light is left, I pose my parents
for a picture outside the lakeside restaurant
beside a mock-orange bush. My father points
toward the darkening blossoms which seem
about to bend to touch my mother's hair.
He smiles as if he were a guide, as if this thing,
by virtue of his having known its name,
has been suddenly, inexplicably improved.
There are walls in my parents' apartment
where whole families can live forever, politically
symmetrical in their similar black-trimmed frames.
Looking at the picture of my father holding me
like a tiny Buddha, I am as amazed
at my father's white shoes as I am
at my mother's height. Also the plethora
of uncles, so many I'd forgotten their names:
Donald, Francis (the one that just escaped
the Tennessee at Pearl), Jimmy, Heinrich....Heinrich?
Below: me in overalls, skinny and big-eared,
no glasses; my grandmother's gimp-legged dog.
Naomi, my parents' dog, is dying. She piddles
anywhere, unpredictably and hopelessly, and my father
pursues her from room to room with handfuls
of pink paper towels. After my son and I leave tomorrow,
my father will gather her up
in his arms and carry her down to the vet's
and submit his clear, incontrovertible instructions.
Too early to ask will there be a replacement
to accompany an old man on his long walks
to the cemetery. Squirrel-chaser, flower-uprooter,
who shall hear my father's sermons now?
Before we leave, my son and I pose
before the dark open mouth of the garage.
I notice it's hard to smile and hold in my stomach
at the same time. I notice my mother's hands,
like crazed porcelain, holding the camera.
What I want, I suddenly realize,
as I pack within easy reach the oatmeal cookies
and the soft lemon cookies dusted with sugar,
is for my parents to live forever, like gods,
like trees in a wood so dense they can't fall down.
Driving away, we wave to my mother waving,
my father already turned to his garden.