“Are you watching closely?”
-Alfred Borden, The Prestige
the prints like rings on a tree been hewn in two, as he
stood between the rotten halves of our past. Can a plant
give the land back its water? My father’s
thumb a gnarl, pricked blisters, sap
splitting the cracked skin. It’s OK, he’d say. You can tell
so much about a man by his hands, the hue and how he holds
them together, sat down to dinner at the end of the day,
the sound they make on skin, rough thud with each slap
of palm against palm, as he claps for the boys when
they’ve lost, the sandpaper skid of callouses on shins
when the night’s cold and mother leans in to his grip, kiss
a question on her lips. Hands answer the body’s queries.
A shoulder stroked, chin tucked in. This is how
love sounds—before the man turns off the light, before
he stands—he puts a palm to the forehead of his son,
feels for the fire, the way they teach you not to when
trapped inside the house. The man knows the risk
of feeling out the blaze, of opening the door that lets
the smoke rush in. He holds his palm up anyway.
And you think this is the trick, for the man to strip
the chains from off his wrists. But tricks don’t work that way,
nor poems neither. The man who escapes is not the one who entered.
He disappears. And hopes the son emerges on the stage, untethered.
with a line from Seamus Heaney
I found the tree by following its root
down the path, like tracking smoke
back to fire. Any fool can peel the rind
from an orange, but few can hold
one without an urge to open it, or suffer
it to rot. This is not, strictly speaking, true.
There are men who, seeking truth,
can strip a tooth down to the root
and, somehow, expect the mouth not to suffer.
So you see, rising from the body, smoke.
Innocence, that first love we hold,
slips the skin like a bruise, before a rind
can form. And as we sleep, grind
against the dream. The ax lands true.
The light falls through the trees and holds
it tight against the ground. The root
cries out as thunder, breath like smoke:
what’s hidden from the sun, can only suffer
if exposed. A man can’t know how the branch suffers
when cut. When the saw’s teeth bite the rind.
Don’t mistake the soul leaping out as smoke.
The world is changing. Two things can be true
simultaneously. But the problem remains, at its root,
a question of the body. If you try to hold
a dead leaf in your fist, you’ll end up holding
nothing. This is one kind of suffering,
the dead slipping through our grasp, roots
clawing the rib cage back, tongue splitting rind
to consume the heart. This is how the true
horror starts. With a house surrounded by smoke,
shadows drifting through the haze, smoke
the light can’t penetrate. Even on fire, the house holds
its secrets. You have to dig for the truth
in the wake of collapse. This, too, is suffering,
to unbury the bodies of our past. Peel the rind
back, the cut of an edge through living roots.
Awaken in my head, uncle Weston. Share with me your suffering,
and I’ll share mine. Truly, there is so much room inside this husk.
Smoke in the mouth, I hold you now, a fire in my gut. My taproot.
Poem with Man’s Body as Cradle
Let me talk of tenderness
with lips pressed
against the neck of another man.
Let me kiss my love
into the hollow of his collar bone—
father, my peach in December
sun. I am just the rime that dusts
your rind; through me like a creek
you run. I fear this drifting even as it seems
ordained. Listen, just stay
still. I am feeling my way to where you hold me,
like you never did.
I was never in your womb;
There’s no umbilicus for us
to reattach. No oneness to return to. The past
is what it was, must be:
A man flees his father
like a building on fire, and I
am smoke, crawling
back inside the chimney.
Weston Morrow is a poet and former print journalist. He serves as assistant poetry editor for Crab Creek Review and the intern for the Bagley Wright Lecture Series. His recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Western Humanities Review, Pacifica Literary Review, Pidgeonholes, After the Pause, and reviews in Blackbird and Western Humanities Review. He can be found on Twitter @WMorrow or at http://www.westonmorrow.com. The poem “Are You Watching Closely?” was inspired by a line from Maya Jewell Zeller’s “Socioeconomic.