Joanne M. Clarkson: "Not My Father's Arms"


Tremor at the edge of memory, how the past

keeps company as death comes home.  As I

sat with him that October afternoon, my friend,

who was dying, revealed

his worst recollection.  Not the

backwards premonition I expected of

war, fractures, the premature passing

of his only daughter, but an evening,

he told me, when he was four or five.


His mother gave permission for him

to meet his father, the nightly ritual of return

from work.  He had run toward a

salmon-colored sunset, through scents

of suppers seasoned with lost countries.

He had run as only a small boy can run, all fists

And knees, as tall as what he knew of manhood.


Two figures approached, in conversation,

facing each other, backed by a sun, ashen now,

just past its glory.  In the shift of light they

saw him, small blur of home, hurtling

toward them.  One knelt, opening dark arms

wide enough for a child to enter

and press against cool wool. 


He had dashed, his arms a matching gesture

of width and pleasure until, enfolded

against a broad chest, he smothered

in alarm.  These were not his father’s arms. 

The face bending down was bearded,

the hands calloused.  His terror went beyond

nightmare, ache, the loss of any dear

possession, sobs lasting long after the other man,

his true parent, lifted him onto strong shoulders. 


He never forgot. That accidental betrayal

haunted every sidewalk, persisted into

the risk of this place, this homecoming in which

his own body had become unfamiliar,

where every day he might wake

into an unknown love.



Joanne M. Clarkson has had two books of poems published: Pacing the Moon (Chantry Press) and Crossing Without Daughters (March Street Press).  Her work has appeared in various journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Pilgrimage, and Calyx.  She is a Registered Nurse with specialties in Hospice and Community Nursing.