Snow and Roses (and other poems)

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. 

Model Nation

                                                           —for Gabriel

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. 


  • Robert Fanning is the author of four full-length collections of poetry: Severance, Our Sudden Museum, American Prophet, and The Seed Thieves, as well as two chapbooks: Sheet Music, and Old Bright Wheel. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Gulf Coast, The Atlanta Review, Waxwing, THRUSH, The Cortland Review, The Common, and many other journals. He is a Professor of English at Central Michigan University, as well as the Founder/Facilitator of the Wellspring Literary Series in Mt. Pleasant, MI, and the Founder/Director of PEN/INSULA POETRY, a resource for Michigan poets.

  • Turn-of-the-century hypnotism posters. There is not much information available about these images, only that they were the product of The Donaldson Lithographing Co. based in Newport, Kentucky and seem to be from around 1900. From Public Domain Review.