Our Father, the Cartographer
After you had left us, had moved on from this world –
your spirit quiet as a knife in its sheath, blunt enough
to be drawn across the hand – after you had left us
only gargoyles grinning from roofs, pitchfork-wielding
gods, the fallen angel, had lured us sheer
to the rim of this cratered earth,
had eaten of our sorrow, spat its bones out,
even redrawn our very map of the world – networks of shadow
across the bed, your hand before the nightlight’s light –
had warped our continents and distances, shrunken our ice caps,
swollen our oceans, leveled forests, washed out deserts,
diverted rivers, poisoned lakes and renamed countries
only to lay them back again to waste –
after you had truly come and gone,
had left us only shadows of your finery
deep in the dressing-up box of our skin, only then
could we know you as you really were, could we see
in your corpse the grandeur of the body,
broken now, and bloodied, shriveled down at last:
a tiny thing.
You talk just like my dad,
i.e. you’re a Geordie.
Out in the world I carry a bird
Who warns me about noxious gases
Emitted by adjectives adverbs
and other ghosts.
Jesus, are you still in there?
At night my dad wraps vowels round his fingers
And goes on mining for northern working-class
Despite the fact that no one else
Thinks it exists.
He had the coldest of hands.
I look down a shrinking tunnel
At the dazzling sight of him, breath smoke
Livid as he patiently moves
The sticks of my small body around.
I did not expect him to wake like this.
He has taken out the coals of his eyes
Ripped out his carrot stick nose
Removed the red scarf that separates head from neck
And become all snow: his voice, his teeth
Still glittering. Ticklish at first, then anxious,
Hoary fingers holding me down as he peels off
My cold weather clothes.
It’s as if he’s trying to press me
To his own fat shape. As he enters
There’s a ripping
And I try to remember the field’s surface
Compacted by my own hands into ice,
Each rolled ball collected in a long bandage:
Now his face breaks off in pieces,
Clearer and clearer becoming not my own.
The world pressed flat
Into a framed picture, my limbs elongate,
Distant and overexposed.
When I reach for my lips
I cannot find them—
I need to find some stones
For eyes, a row of small pebbles
For my mouth: I know I’ll have to lie,