Monday, June 26, 2006

Poem of the Week 6/26/2006: The Fall

The Fall

1
My father died.
I sat beside my mother
writing notes to the family.

She addressed, I sealed.
The responsibility was mine.
If I licked too long
our names would blur--
too quick and the card
might flutter out

where a stranger could see it.
From that high sofa
I could peek into the garden.
Apple blossoms whirled like snow.

What a long way home.
But we were home.
My thigh prickled against hers.

Dusk, and still a pile left.
Why did we have so many cousins?

I watched her severe white shoulder
for any sign of weakness.

Now it was night, May night,
the petals stopped twirling
in deference to darkness

and we'd left someone out
so important he'd be shocked,
he'd be horrified,
but who?
The uncle in Stockholm?
The niece in Australia?

It was past bedtime, a steeple said so,
and still my mother ruined her eyes
under that weak lamp
inscribing a single name
and names of distant cities.
Prague, Vienna, Tallinn.

A moth thudded softly
against the screen,
demanding to be let out.

2
Now my brother and I
play soccer so gracefully--
before we were sacks of bones,
puppets twitching to desire.

We dribble through each other
like smoke . . . the goal
marked by a shirt and a lunch box,
the score a thousand to nothing . . .

We rule this six-foot gap,
just the two of us.
Our father below
stumbles in his grave.

3
Nipple with a little brown circle
around it, and a hair--
I saw this in a mirror,
she dressing, he laid out:
the hair astonished me:
then it vanished
in my white cloud of breath.

4
A child whose father died
is following the body,
limping a little
because he skinned his knee in the championship game . . .

Something holds him back
but something draws him forward,
rivets him to the amber taillights
of the receding black Dodge.

Sometimes he slips in an extra step
or coaxes himself forward
pumping his arms, but discreetly,
so no one will guess the blood is hardly caked . . .

And I watch
from the crest of the cedar
where I've been robbing
the songbirds' nests,
bits of shell in my pocket.

Yolk sticks to my shorts
and dries on my thigh.
I cannot speak, the owl might hear,
but I whisper, hurry.

As if he hears me,
the child stumbles and begins racing
and the gates close behind him.

The bells start tolling,
first mourning, then gloating.
I count noon, midnight, echoes,
until there are no more numbers
but only music,
and the breeze rocks me.

D. Nurkse 2002

I can't decide whether the viewed boy at the end of this poem is just a vision of himself or a real, different boy whose situation mirrors the speaker's own. Furthermore, I think it doesn't matter. In either case, the distance between the little limping boy and the yolk-stealer in the tree represents the speaker's emotional distance following the death of his father. "The Fall" tracks a boy's jarring fall into the first wilderness of adulthood. Nurkse filters grief over the loss of a parent through a child's mind, and we watch the speaker work through his daddy's death with denial, anxiety, and, eventually, grief.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I really like part 2 of this poem. We're given the image of the narrator/boy playing soccer over his father's grave. It works to illustrate the distance from the death. He's playing soccer with his brother, something that they were not allowed to do when their father was alive ("before we were sacks of bones,/ puppets twitching to desire").

It's like they are momentarily relieved that their father is dead. They're having fun. This is an aspect of coping with death we don't hear about often.

It's a fleeting moment before realization.