To my father returning to Douglas, Georgia, 1969
Even Odysseus made
his way back to original coast.
Hands empty, he brought no prizes.
This didn’t stop fishy steam
from rising over kettles, or
the black locks of his wife and son
from spiraling like currents of the Aegean.
How, after blood in the ridges
of your fingers, on the sole
of your shoe, do you walk through your familiar alcove,
the stain un-removable from all you touch?
Your mother’s brass Tiffany lamp
that barely brightens the room with its pull-switch,
its metal cool as a gun-barrel—
in the shrubs, the small dachshund
that might fall from hot lead,
be gutted, skewered to roast—
this is what Da-nang does to the shape of matter.
No Sea of Crete here, no bow to string,
no shade from leaves of olive trees.
On Gaskin Avenue there are oaks,
small fires of oleander,
the same blooms over napalm villages.
Sometimes, to lay your burden down,
you have to dismantle your life,
you have to loosen brick from mortar,
stop pounding the pestle
and let dried leaves hang and fester,
taunted by a perpetual scent of basil.
Perhaps, you must walk along the spine
of a mountain, far from familiar sound,
banter. Oxygen lacking, you learn
Latinate names of flowers, your tongue
stumbling as sky is altered.
Sometimes, you must purge the unworn
shoes never meant to carry you in an eastern
direction. You have to relearn your father’s accent,
all subtleties of his inflections, until you can say,
Peaches, peaches, a simple benediction.
a blue crab.
It’s as simple as that
where scuppernongs grow
and the banks
are covered with oysters