Snow and Roses
—Gerald A. Fanning (5/19/29-4/22/2013)
Make it quick, my brother said, pressing his phone
to your cold ear. A priest was waiting beyond
the curtain. One hundred miles away, I stammered
Dad, I'm not sure if you can hear me. I love you.
After hanging up, I walked out of my office into the light
of early spring, crossed the parking lot, opened the heavy door
of the church I never visit. I do love the hush of empty
sanctuaries, the chatter and engines of the day
made mute, the votive flicker, the floor stained
with rainbow, the air a hint of incense and lingering prayer.
Kneeling in the first pew, I stared up at a wooden Christ,
at some gilded Latin phrase over the crucifix that meant
nothing to me. One you no doubt knew well. Father,
let me call you that now that you're gone. Here we are
still, on opposite shores, another sea of indecipherable
language between us. Listen, father statue, father stone,
the test is over and we failed. But maybe now we can trace
the letters, sound out the words in separate tongues,
translate distance into love. Teach it to me in your new dialect.
I need to learn what this means. I need to know this by heart.
As you speak, new worlds rise in your eyes.
A voice within your voice—do you hear it, too?—
could fill a whole sea with whale song. It sings
fathom and league, sings launch and conquer.
It is ocean wide now, this good force of your going.
Yet still, my heart fumbles to fasten some small rope
around the dock—and so love is—wishes for a way
to keep us here. Too late. That little boat you were,
giggling in the tub as I blew bubbles, is oceans away.
Sailboat, tugboat, yacht, steamer, freighter,
I've been watching from the dock and hear already
the growing ache and groan of giant chains clanking
an iron hull, the long horn of adulthood calling you
with its sweeping wall of mist and fog.
When you look back and see me wave, may I be
the ocean's shoulders ever rolling beneath you.
Please—know me not as a country fading
from view, but as one who carried with love
the great world you now carry in you.
On Crater Trail
—Craters of the Moon National Monument
The first steep ascent, you and I reach
the rim, a vista of black lava flow on one side
of us, a plunging, dormant crater on the other.
It sounds like glass, you say, nudging a porous
cinder nugget with your foot. Like two lone
astronauts, we stand in deep silence for a moment,
staring off into miles and millennia of a broken,
breakable earth. We hike over ridges, down
into craters, leap small ravines of fractured
magma, cinder’s silty crunch under our soles.
I enter an ancient cavemouth, look inside.
Somewhere in there, millions of bats hang—secrets
the dusk will later open. As we walk, I fly
back through my life, sharing stories, stopping
when I worry I’m boring you. To my surprise,
you say, gently: No, keep going, I’m really interested.
How does anything grow here? In seeming desolation
life somehow thrives; everywhere tufts of spiky pale
flowers—thistle, aster and sagebrush dot the charred hills.
Beneath us, dusty sandstone shifts from ash to rust.
Only yesterday I’d said on journeys like this we leave
old selves behind. Yet, on ground scorched into rock
and ruin, it’s tempting to see annihilation as event,
the making made, the being fixed, the eruption history,
the flow forever petrified. At the end of the trail, we sit
and you ask: now can I share part of my life story
with you? When a heart far wider than mine opens:
rift of blinding beauty, river of fire and blood,
of what was solid: fluid again. And I become
no longer your father, and you no longer my son.