My father can not hear me, not well.
Too old, or too stubborn, to learn to sign,
he cocks his ear as I try to tell him.
Whip poor will, I say.
Whip poor will. Whip poor will.
Ah, he answers at last. Yes.
Forced by some dark passion to say his name,
over and over and over and over,
the whippoorwill calls the night
from his holy place on the other hill,
a lover's call, the cry of creation.
My father cannot hear it, not in his ears.
And so he listens in his head:
whip poor will, whip poor will, whip poor will.
Such sounds live in the mind.
They echo through interior hills,
drift across eroded peaks of memory.
Turning his face toward the twilight
my father listens with his body
as the ghostly sound ripples
through the caverns of his remembrance,
and he smiles to hear that lonesome
lover's call, that cry of creation.
He takes with him, to sleep,
that promised epiphany of sound.
WHAT THE RIVER WHISPERS
high above the coiled river
two hawks hover, whistling
at intervals their nasal echoing cry.
when they tangle, touching talons,
they nail each other's wings to the
pinwheeling landscape below.
my son sees this, rocking
in our canoe, and takes it in.
who would have thought the river's
voice would be his to hear?
Shenandoah, Ganges, Danube.
Amazon, Nile, Chang.
the great planet carries your freight
of life. this father and son in turn
watch the river-gods speak
their names to the sea. even as
a deafness steals upon us with
every flowing year, we learn
to listen and so finally hear each
other in the water-whispering rocks.
when your father died
you went back to the garage
and pulled cold clay
from a blue bucket.
wet and cold as the clay itself
your hands gripped earth
trying for some old shape,
something you might recognize.
along dusty shelves vases twisted,
arrested songs of movement fixed in glass,
while wide round bowls embraced
their silent shares of air.
all these pots and urns you
shaped and formed in fire.
but today clay drops down
between your fingers,
as if wanting to become again
only earth and water.
for a long time you refuse to
give in. and then, at last, you do.
THE LAST ROSE OF SUMMER
you are not fading, not yet.
on your skin a globe of dew rests high
and round, firm as adolescence.
like silent applause or prayer,
your hands open, open, open,
as if inventing new atmospheres,
a fan dancer's quiet act of air.
from kinder suns your skin has taken yellow,
though at the center edged with pink,
where some heat, benign, licked like flame
the petals as they spread, an ecstasy.
your color, your thin petals belie the cold
come from the north, as if your true heart
belonged somewhere in Spain, or France, or Italy,
lounging by the Mediterranean in eternal sun.
here, as though searching for some way in,
across your leaves one small insect crawls,
while overhead clouds unlike summer clouds
crowd out sunlight, turning the yard gray-green,
narrowing the mind's eye, like light in a closet,
as if winter had sent an advanced patrol,
looking for you, for us, even before leaves fall.
and you, my wife, with slender gray silk
starting to weave its light in your hair,
and your skin still sweet like the rose's skin,
and your hands still open for this autumn sky,
I can see your lips are scorched with pink,
and that summer nights still ignite your eye
Jack Greer is a poet and fiction writer; he also writes about science and policy for the University of Maryland Sea Grant College. He has won two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council (1999 and 2000) and two citations from the Governor of Maryland for his environmental work. Among his literary publications are America and Other Poems (Dryad Press), short stories recently in The Annapolis Anthology and Pembroke Magazine, and a literary memoir published as part of the Baltimore Artscape 2000 anthology. He lives in Edgewater, Maryland with his wife, Bobbie, who is a potter.
Published in Volume 1, Number 4,
To read more by this author:
Greer: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue