The clock on the parlor wall, stout as a mariner’s clock,
disperses the day. All night it tolls the half-hour
and the hour’s number with resolute measure,
approaching the poles and crossing the equator
over fathoms of sleep. Warm
in the dark next to your breathing,
below the thousand favored stars, I feel
horns of gray water heave
underneath us, and the ship’s pistons
pound as the voyage continues over the limited sea.
After tending the fire, making coffee, and pouring milk
for cats, I sit in a blue chair each morning,
reading obituaries in the Boston Globe
for the mean age; today there is MANUFACTURER CONCORD 53,
EX-CONGRESSMAN SAUGUS 80—and I read
that Emily Farr is dead, after a long illness in Oregon.
Once in an old house we talked for an hour, while a coal fire
brightened in November twilight and wavered
our shadows high on the wall
until our eyes fixed on each other. Thirty years ago.
We lie by the pond on a late August afternoon
as a breeze from low hills in the west stiffens water
and agitates birch leaves yellowing above us.
You set down your book
and lift your eyes to white trunks tilting from shore.
A mink scuds through ferns; an acorn tumbles.
Soon we will turn our daily business.
You do not know that I am watching, taking pleasure
in your breasts that rise and fall as you breathe.
Then I see mourners gathered by an open grave.
Last night at suppertime I outlived my father, enduring
the year, month, day, and hour
when he lay back on a hospital bed in the guestroom
among cylinders of oxygen—mouth open, nostrils and lips
fixed unquivering, pale blue. Now I have wakened
more mornings to frost whitening the grass,
read the newspaper more times, and stood more times,
my hand on a doorknob without opening the door.
Father of my name, father of long fingers, I remember
your dark hair, and your face almost unwrinkled.
From the Studebaker’s backseat, on our Sunday drives,
I watched her earrings sway. then I walked uphill
beside an old man carrying buckets
under birches on an August day. Striding at noontime,
I looked at wheat and at river cities. In the crib
my daughter sighed opening her eyes. I kissed the cheek
of my father dying. By the pond an acorn fell.
You listening here, you reading these words as I write them,
I offer this cup to you: Though we drink
from this cup every day, we will never drink it dry.