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FATHER'S RETURN

Not able to stand, but standing
Back among you
I am as I was, but blanched.

Not of this world,
But wanting to talk, I am
Simply scalded from walking

My fire. The air I carry, blackdamp.
Kindled alone and wrapped
As if in a tight, hot sheet

And my body so cold inside it.
I have missed you.
Or something like you —

Perhaps the scatter of hay-high grass,
Its frivolous unseeding. Or a flash
Of jack-in-the-pulpit —

the flutter and wobble of that.
Once I tamped down
Denatured earth, all for a root to take

Hold. How similar was my life —
The rampant touching of vines,
Unwatered lawn grown over, unmown,

My children, and childhood, gone.
And yes, my distinctive cough.
That room, where I kept you small.

      — Joan Houlihan