It was mother's work, this brush of shadows.
Now, my cloth dusts crystal on the bookcase
shelf, then, to the silver mirror from Mexico.
That travel is a memory, half dust, half light,
beside the three brass bowls that collect dust
from the open window, right next to the pencil
drawing of his naked torso in a gilded frame.
I imagine, then, the word "dust" as verb
and noun: setting down our work, taking it up
again, to dust his back with powder, or dust
by air the fields of wheat to make them ripe,
and now, to dust the glass across this sketch
that collects the heart's equivalent of rust.
How nice, his picture polished bright to wait
the hand that lifts us up once more from dust.
Sonata for Another World
on the 50th Anniversary of my father's Death
After my father died, his broken violin stayed
in the basement until a flood came and warped
the wood so much mother had to throw it out.
I saw it in the garbage with its few strings
curled up like strands of his once black hair.
We had floods like that in the city, then.
Brackish water gushed up from the grid
of the basement drain like oil, and sewage
belched into our lives, while sheets of rain
were wrung from the gray and lightning sky.
I never heard my father play his violin,
and yet there should be songs for those like him,
the ones who could not get the world right,
the ones who floated on the murky tide of days,
then lifted by the waves, they drowned.
My student, Philip, has the same black hair
my father had. He studies how to pull the music
down from heaven with his bright hands.
His violin can burn once more our open sore.
Around again that fire comes just like before.
The days are well near spring, and now the snow
plowed into temporary cliffs begins to melt.
What are these dregs of memory poking out?
The figs of paper bags, a rag that was a shirt,
and broken twigs that blindly reach for light.
All manner of dross floats up from a dream,
like the leather sleeves of Napoleon's dead army.
Those twisted fingers reach up from frozen mud
after their long retreat from Russia's snow,
and scratch the air on which our songs travail.
I thought as a child my father's dead arms
would rise out of our ghostly coal bin, too,
and reaching for his absent violin,
drag me down into the silent well of death.
Instead, we burnt that coal to keep us warm.
The weary wheel their wagons and their load,
then, stop surprised! A moment turns a life.
Philip plays, I listen, and half a century folds.
He who is, may be as he who could have been.
To know this wound, is to know who heals it.
I wake early, while dawn still struggles in the dark,
and hope again a music for our broken hearts,
a requiem out of time, unlike any love we know.
Too long we miss the home where we belong.
Come father, play; these words are for your song.
Copyright © 2004 Robert Klein Engler