THREE PRAYERS FROM THE BROKENHEARTED
In many failures have my daughters cried.
Certainly they stumbled into trust
at the rough, uncertain hands of other men.
They’re women, but I think of them as girls—
baffled by the lust behind locked doors
and the mirrors spitting back their looks—
stone plain and not a chance.
I’m a disappointing man—broke
through both their homes—once a mournful drunk
and once an unassuming man of Christ.
Both times I loved their mothers blind, believing
as I burned them through with my desires
that a real man loves with pain. In my old age
I’m beaten down enough to pray for them
and for myself, mostly bald, retreating
to the loneliness from which they sprang.
Let them meet and laugh and cry in the same day—
half-sisters, half-estranged, with the same astonished face.
In the picture I am six and he’s staring down,
a dark, good-looking man with distant eyes.
Among wide oaks we walked in City Park—
him steering with my braids until we found
a place to watch the iridescent ducks.
He said the greatest trees had names—
The Seven Sisters tangled in distress,
The Dueling Oak, beneath which brave men died.
The day he left my mother cut my hair—
she grabbed the braid beneath my nape and sawed.
I didn’t move. She said I had to try
to be her little man because my daddy
went and had another little girl.
If I never have another wish,
let her be ugly, blind, and, may her hair
unbraid like moss in the dirtiest of swamps.
I keep two chickens in the yard. Some mornings
they drop eggs. I search for you in strangers—
at the grocery or holding up the line
at DiMartino’s. In the Gretna daylight
every climate is the road to you—the liquid heat
or brown banana leaves beneath the frost.
Cheryl—what woman would I be if you were here?
Would we be sisters? Would we be old maids?
You could bring your daughter and we could cook
and sit and talk across the kitchenette.
I keep two stubborn chickens in the yard
and brew my coffee through bleached flour sacks—
there’s a pot on now, bitter and black as his heart.
(Our father will not speak of sorrow, wrath,
not love or hate, and least of all your name.)
Mostly I’m in silence when the sadness comes,
imagining the woman I’d be if I were whole.
How can it be he kept us both apart?
I keep two chickens in the yard, and several cats.
You say the word and I will wring their necks.
—from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
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