Ianua: Day Zero plus Three

I take an inch of hair, cut
from that subtle overlooked curve
of bone behind the ear.  The sound,

inside the room’s quiet, expansive
and final, like the tearing of grass.  I take
only what I can hold, like the soft white hair

of a paintbrush, in the plump,
small ferrule I make of a forefinger
and thumb.  Because my father’s hair

is white, but not at all like snow and nothing
at all like ivory—the poverty of clichés,
the dangers of living

a life through language.  So instead
let’s say my father’s hair is like the stems
of marram wet from a sudden squall

of rain and whipped white by the wind
in the light.  Etchings on glass.
And I think of Rubens choosing to render

the flash of Delilah’s doubt and regret;
how, in that endless moment right
before the cut, as the light from the lantern

catches and holds on the fulcrum
of the scissors’ pivot, we see in her face
an echo of knowledge surfacing: it’s too

late, it’s too late, now, it’s sunlight caught
in play on the blade of a scythe.  And Samson,
of course, is sleeping, adorning

the lap of this lover, unprotected
by the shield of his own self-awareness; his beauty
more astonishing because

he is sleeping.  And as his companions moil
at the threshold of the chamber, the Philistine
positions his scissors.  But I

have no doubt and I have no regret.
Because my father is not sleeping.
He is visible from the waist up, lying

in the silk-frilled mollusc
of his coffin.  Against the inside of my
body, like a new lining, the pressed ache

of grievance: that a stranger
washed my father’s hair; that a stranger washed
my father’s body.  I want to unbutton

his shirt; I want to unbutton
it all the way and find, in that shallow
hollow where neck meets clavicle, the incision

through which the stranger who washed
my father’s hair hooked a vein, then lifted
it free, then bled

this body.  In the apex of the belly’s apse
I’ll find that chirp of a wound
from the surgeon’s needle.  The button

of the trocar.  Damage
from the childhood injury that almost
killed him; long weld of the scar from the bullet

that should have—my father
never could say why, on the banks
of the Rhine, in the dawn of a late-March

morning, he unfolded himself from the dirt
of his slit trench and became a man
against the skyline.  And in his heart there is a wound

like a mouth, now, where no
mouth should be.  Lipless.  A mouth
without language.  And to see that, to find

what killed him, I’d be tender—no more
violence, no more breakage; I’d open
him up as if opening

up a way through water, my palms moving
through each glide and catch
until I reach the heart’s wrung meat

beneath its thin-slatted baldacchino
of bone.  I look for the last time
at the body of my father.  Which is also

not my father.  I put away
my small scissors.  I walk from the room
with my white brushstroke of hair.


First published in Arts and Letters, Fall 2016