One door is his will. He leaves me
nothing, not even my name
in the list of his surviving children.
One door is a folded standard
the honor guard hands his widow, next
of kin, no kin to me. It’s only cotton
but weighed down with stars. My father once
carved a Möbius strip in wood, a triangle
with rounded corners and one continuous
surface. He gave it to me, or I took it, I can’t
remember. Its impossible interior
a portal. A book is always a door:
his Bible, inscribed First Reformed
Sunday School, Brooklyn, 1934.
Behind the title page, in boyish pencil,
Job 19:21 skin of teeth.
In fact, that’s 19:20, a tale of escape.
21 implores: Have pity upon me, O ye
my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.
A threshold where I pause and think: be
empty. Your inheritance is nothing. Feel
it in your muscles, the heaviness of vacancy.
Trace with your finger its curious property
of one-sidedness. Souvenir of air.
First published by Barrow Street Review
What They Don’t Say
Life in us was like water in a river:
that’s Thoreau via Lowell. It may rise higher
this year. The copperheads may writhe on a ledge
of exposed shale lapped by current. An eyebrow-ridge
smacked by little waves. Life surging out
of ducts, seeping from nail-beds, rushing each sheet
of paper, foaming with pollutants. You think
it sounds good, the high life, this water-mark,
but it’s messy. What they don’t say is how
you ooze from every orifice: that’s Amelia,
nobody you should know, on the days
after childbirth. A father’s death flows
hard too, spooks the snakes, even when you feel
the world’s better off. Your banks torn away.
First published by Poetry Congeries
My Dead Father Remembers My Birthday
Dream-phone rang and I thought: that’s exactly
his voice. I haven’t forgotten. Then: but I could
forget, because he’s dead. Hi, sorry it’s been so long,
but I was sick and the doctors messed everything up.
He made that shrug-noise, dismissive but pained,
meaning he’s lying or leaving something out.
It’s snowing here, and then a click, click, over the line,
and a neutral woman’s voice, slightly officious:
This recording was intercepted. If you wish to replay
this message, dial this number now, and she recited
a blizzard of digits while I flailed
for a pen then found myself tangled in blankets.
The window a bruise beginning to fade.
Here mist wreaths the trunks. In a few months
snow will crisp the grass, insulate and numb the oaks
with feathery layers that would soak and freeze
a human being. When and where is he? Snug,
maybe, watching weather through double panes.
Or wanting to be. I heard a bead of doubt
suspended in his voice, a cool guess he’d missed
something, before my operator intervened,
reason declaring: This is memory. The line is cut.
First published by New Ohio Review
© Lesley Wheeler