Receiving Line

I’m so sorry, Your father changed my life, He loved you boys
more than anything
—an interminable string
of rotten figs rolling toward my stiffened
face, sealing me into fabric, lengthening
pants, cinching necktie, the chandelier
of my mind lowered and gone dark.

A tall 15, poised on thick
rose-patterned carpet—steamed shirt
polished shoes—I stood so
many miles from speech.

The sun cannot be seen directly. Faces tilt
at disparate angles of refracted light. They did not
know the man whose tongue framed my house
with iron while they flipped
channels in tidy rooms.
Each eulogy stilled the vowels
stirring in my chest, every laud a pail
of dirt tossed down my throat, vines
rooting at the base
of hidden stakes.

My father: neither monster nor saint, my secret,
the hanger from which I learned
to simply sway.

How long I had waited!

The crowd prayed and thumbed
lint from blazer pockets. I stood, desperate
to snip the root
of him, the words inching
from my mouth like a bud.

What Men’s Words Are For

I will take care of you no matter what,
a proud promise from your foolish father.
I will teach you what men’s words are for

Not in the cave of room where you swung
umbrage like a mace, rage bent
from bandaged finger, scythe
slicing reed of elder son.

Not from the toilet, knees chattering
scorn unleashed at mom like a wrecking ball.
Not in your geode belly—amethyst glint
in strangers’ eyes—not in the lexical rope

with which you reined them in, to pull
your cognitive sleigh. Not, when they’d gone,
in coarse punchlines dealt with perfect glee, false
teeth gleaming like scavenged bone.

You must have meant your poetry—the brittle
page where you eased into wanting nothing
but to cudgel truth from limestone. With a pen,
you were the boy you were

before the boxcar of your soul
jumped the track. Had you made your foolishness
the first stitch, apology the vertex
of inception, you’d have woven

more than scraps. Pride is deadly
for artists, more so for fathers.

I ride the quiet train today with my wife, who underscores
lines in a memoir about a proud father who disappeared
into garage, bottle and Ford pickup.

And I am writing poetry—
finding again and again the place
to which you vanished.

*from “For Matthew” by Robert Pasca, 1981.