i.m. Greg Greger (1923–2015)
I. West of Chekhov
A month since Father died. Back in our old house,
sisters, where were we? Desert of childhood,
for you we opened another closet.
Father the farm boy––what didn’t he save?
There his Army jacket
with ribbons we never learned to read.
He left a wooden box of negatives
in the coal-store.
Studio portraits of ghosts reeked of hypo,
emulsions wrinkled with age, glassine sleeves
From the basement a brother emerged
with a hammer, the peen soldered with brass
to prolong its life.
Open the front door and draw breath!
Cottonwood seed clouds his lawn, his car––
they to be packed as well.
II. In the Horse Heavens
We climbed the Horse Heaven Hills,
my dead father and I.
Taller than he’d been for decades, bronzed,
he was sure-footed again,
though you heard the uneven gait
of someone who’d been thrown
by a horse eight decades before. Left breathless
by his weakened heart?
No, brushing back waves of hair he’d yet to lose,
he traced a dark ribbon
of river to a small patch of lights. Farsighted again,
he said––but a wind
came up and tore his words from me.
III. My Parents Return From the Dead
as from a trip,
needing no luggage––
Father having gone
to the underworld to get my mother.
They look young:
Dad has hair, Mother her mind.
Older than they are,
we crowd around the table,
sitting where we always did.
“What’s for supper?” the youngest asks
at the open fridge.
He stands, expensive shoes bathed
in milk-blue light
spilled on the scarred linoleum.
Arctic in their purity,
the empty shelves. In the cupboard,
not a dish of dust.
Why stop at the end
of nowhere? Down a road unpaved,
through a ranch of scrub, Dad drove us
to see a cave barely there,
it was so shallow.
Down a hole crouched a man.
A pie pan offered splintered, filthy finds:
Human remains, broken and burned:
Oh, Ice Age, we bring nothing
into this world.
My father’s ninety years––
down a deep hole, with a dirty toothbrush,
a man will take pains to sweep them away.
Why stop here ever again?
The levee built
to protect the site from water swelling
behind a new dam will seep,