now, sing

Three short pieces in conversation with Anne Carson’s “Short Talks,” from Plainwater: Essays and Poetry (1995):

On my father

In the dim light of his apartment, the moan of wind tunneling through back streets, he prepares his meal on the kitchen table. Eats there, returns to his room. The television on the floor muted, the black and white glow of it. He sits in a wooden chair. A cardboard box of photographs on his lap. Now my father is weeping.

Tonight there is no moonlight. Tonight he lets his sadness settle in on the room, a fine layer of dust on blanket and bed, on wooden chair and end table. On television, on parquet floors and on him, bowed gray head and pale flesh now graying in unforgiving light.

On screen, an endless parade of men and women rushing in and out of frame, the action of their made-up lives rising and falling, rising and falling in rhythms that we can anticipate, longing and grief in measured doses, titrated slowly to rates we can absorb.

On our debt to the memory of the dead

What is it that we owe to the memory of the dead? What measure fealty? What homage?

We return to the burial site bearing gaudy gifts. The peonies their blossoms so heavy and full they droop on slender stems. Their brightness offends. It is June and my legs are bare. When I kneel down before the stone, pebbles lodge into my flesh. I brush them off. I kiss the air. A bird sings from a branch nearby and then stops.

My father’s voice no longer comes to me in dreams. The years mock us in how little we remember. A limp, one leg shorter than the other. Hunched shoulders from decades of slow decline. This body, these dessicated bones. What if now from deep in the earth, they could sing?

On longing

There was a party in his parents’ home. His brother played piano and we gathered around. It was winter. The evening lit by candelight. His white-haired father placed his long slender fingers on my hand. I have always been baffled by fathers.

Bring your hand to your heart, hold it there. Bring your hand to your chin. Hold your hands up and take his face in your hands. Now sing.