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Elegy on the Far Bank

ISSUE:  Fall 2016

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, 
      great preserver, 

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
      gone yellow. 

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.

IV. Rockshelter

      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:
      elk bone, 

      bone tools. 
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, 
      wound unstaunched.


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