July 23, 2009

Deborah Tobola


In the dream, I’m showing someone the grave where
my father is buried. There, under the willow tree.
I turn to look at the person I’m talking to. It is my father.
Which father is my father? The live one standing next to me
or the dead one, buried beneath the willow tree?
They are both my father, of course. What I mean is—
which time is real? The time when he was alive?
Or the time when he’s dead? No, that’s not right.
They are both real time. But which time is the now?
Am I standing with my living father, dreaming of
a time after he dies? Or am I looking at my father’s grave,
dreaming of a time when he was alive? I can’t decide.
I don’t know which time is now or if the times
could somehow co-exist. You know, it’s because
I’m dreaming. What are you still doing here?
he asks me. I think he’s asking why I’m still living
in my small desert town. I can’t leave—I love my family
too much,
I say. They are not far away—a few miles,
a few hours, a half-a-day away. You need to get your work
out into the world,
he replies. A few weeks later,

driving home, I stop at the red sign midway between
the cemetery and my house. I’m not thinking about
the dream. Probably, I’m fooling with the radio. I decide this later,
because my neck is not broken. Because I do not brace
for the impact. I never see it coming. Cranked-up tow truck
doing 60 rear-ends my car, catapulting it across
the intersection. On the other side, I hit a Joshua tree and
a telephone pole and then the yellow Pontiac
bursts into flame, a cactus blossom. I don’t remember any of this.
My clock stops. I lose the crash time, the driver who hit me
pulling me out time, the cops searching the desert
for the body of my son time, the ambulance ride time.
In the hospital, after a few hours, I get time back. Once I can
say my name, what day it is, they send me home,
where I am awakened every hour, asked the same questions,
beginning with Who are you?
By morning, I realize that when
my father said here, he meant earth.
You want to know if the cops found my son’s body.
But maybe he wasn’t with me in the car.
Maybe I couldn’t remember if he was with me or not.
Maybe I’m standing next to him now, asking him what
he is still doing here, urging him to get his work done.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention