IN MY FATHER'S STUDY
May He who establisheth peace in the heavens
grant peace unto us and unto all Israel;
and say ye, Amen.
from Prayers for the Dead
In Oklahoma, my father, a preacher,
made of the long narrow room
over the garage a country of books.
On Saturday afternoons, as mimeo spirits
and ink in a far corner darkly suspired,
I'd listen to my father belabor his sermon,
speaking it, breathing it out of his head
like a dragon, turning from time to time
to render some sense on the Underwood.
Ignored, I folded myself into books
one with a picture of Jesus in a storm
at water's edge, his hands stretched out
to still the sea. From a crevice
among the rest I rescued one book
pebbly-soft and curled.
"That's Hebrew," my father said.
"You read it backwards." In father-growl,
his finger tracing the alien script:
O-se sho-lom bim-ro-mov hu ya-a-se sho-lom
O-lay-nu y'al kol yis-ro-yal v'im-ru o-mayn.
From the high windows, alone,
I watched once as workmen
at the next-door funeral home
fired the brown grass, burning off weeds,
making the red dirt rich again
for summer's growth.
Smoke soon pillowed the world below
to where the churchyard dogwood trees
held crosses up to the graceful blue.
Conjuring like brown-eyed Jesus,
muttering words so old they must be wise
O-se sho-lom bim-ro-mov hu ya-a-ses sho-lom
I calmed the singular cloud
and thought to walk upon it,
so nearly freed of gravity's reproach.