The last time I visit my father
While he still lives alone, he tells me
His longtime neighbor’s son is dead, shot
By a stranger on the back porch
Of the yellow-brick ranch I can see
From the three-paned bedroom window.
“About your age, that boy,” he says,
Meaning sixty, his neighbor as near
To ninety as my father, the son
Living at home as if he still walked
To the school bus stop with textbooks.
“They say he shot the other man first,”
My father adds, making mystery,
Saying the survivor was found
In the kitchen by my father’s friend
Come home from blood tests meant to adjust
The dosages that extend his heart.
“What’s next?” my father says. “What’s next?”
The answer, for now, his moving
Next week to a nursing home where
What’s next will not be his leaving
The stove on or falling down the stairs
Or forgetting a day’s worth of drugs.
In his back yard a storm-felled tree
Sprawls so close to the house the door
Can’t be opened. The television
Shows darkness, and my father says,
“You try” as if I might resurrect
The guests he watches until he sleeps.
The weather inside his locked windows
Suggests a ceiling of thunderheads,
But he buttons his sweater, closes
The green drapes like a magician
Ready to remove the felled tree
That stretches the width of his yard,
Telling me his neighbor confronted
The killer in his kitchen, saying,
At last, “Where I’ve sat a hundred times,”
Beginning to remember the shape
And color of the chairs, how a clock
Is hung above the window that looks
Out on the porch, how, if you lean
Over the sink, you could examine
The length of it for your son after
A bleeding stranger nods that way
As if he’s answering the question
That you cannot lift into the light
With your just crippled lips and tongue.
Gary Fincke's latest collection of poems, The History of Permanence, won the Stephen F. Austin Poetry Prize and was published in 2011. His next book is a collection of stories, The Proper Words for Sin, which will be published by West Virginia in early 2013.