Today my father floats face down,
maps with old eyes the undulations
of water still alive with catfish and perch.
But these are things to catch and eat,
things he doesn’t need. We could say free. Or maybe
the water’s rolled him face up because water is strong enough.
How could we have known yesterday
that on his second pass, a smile and wave to my mother
on the Ford’s blue hood, he’d be
swimming toward the skis flown out
from under him—and he in an instant,
in a human moment split:
He’s gone. And later, his forehead fickle
with shadows through willow and wild pecan,
summer limbs full and green, his face
a breathless mirror. We could say clear,
unbroken, good luck. On the third day—but isn’t that
the way with sacred stories?—he’s turned again
as if by a midwife’s sure hand, pulled from the gush of blood
and water enough to drown. Such a simple catch:
His trunks caught
on a trotline hanging secret, dangerous hooks
in my father’s private water,
and the fisherman looking to coat filets
in cornmeal for a greased pan. Looking only to put food
on the table. Looking to live.
CHANCE FOR RECONCILIATION
Then she said to me, It was nothing like
the courtrooms on TV. Instead, a large
cherrywood table in the middle and people
around it, waiting. Yes, I’ve seen such places,
conference rooms where partners compare
the billed hours of associates, the money–No,
our money was in another room,
smaller. Two attorneys we asked
to leave us a few minutes. That must have
been hard. For the first time no one else.
For the last time I went the dark halls
of his eyes, quiet. I promised nothing
is set in stone, I begged, nothing is set
in stone. And still. Did the attorneys
follow you? Stand with you? Witness?
We took our turn at the raised–not too
high–raised leather chair–a partner’s chair—
where the judge sat, looked down.
Court reporter? Yes, she was
careful. How many questions?
I can’t remember until the end when
only the judge would look only at me.
Attorneys? Face forward. And John?
Sometimes I joke, it was Halloween,
still warm in Houston but the same
swearing to tell the truth as on March 9th
when the steps to an Ohio church
were striped with late snow dust. What was
the last question? I was alone in it. I said no,
I didn’t believe. By all the gods, I said no.
HOW MANY CHILDREN
Kelvin passes around a cellphone picture
of his unborn child, points to the speck
that proves gender, and I pretend to see.
He’s proud, of course, and I’m amazed
at the cold-gel smear on a woman’s belly
that opens like the diary of a missing girl
the clues to what lies inside, apparently
calm, with a heart this freshman has heard
muffling trochees through an obstetrician’s
sensitive machine. I crack a joke about
swollen ankles, saddle blocks, and the words
he won’t expect from the lips of his true love
in labor. Men have no idea, I say as if once
I’d breathed a baby through, while the women
nod and laugh, and I play along, wear well
my extra weight under loose-fitting clothes,
cling to a godmother’s subterfuge as I hold
my sister’s child, perpetually eight and
smiling in a frame on my desk. Kelvin goes
back to his seat, follows the life in his palms.
I hope he never asks. It’s only the beginning of class.