Empire

Sitting in the garden you built,
you hold two empires in your hands.
One is bitter,
and the other beautiful.

In the afternoon’s bellied silence, one hand twists
behind your back
as you offer your daughter
the other.

The world is only half terrible,
you remember. You remember reading that
in a poem on a snowy day
somewhere far away.

“50 percent terrible… A conservative
estimate,” the poet said.
And your open fist ties itself
to your spine as it tries to bear the weight
of a half.

Instead, you proffer the empire
you love:
your garden,
the sunlight,
the color of loving eyes;
the one easy to forget
and easily remembered.

“Here, sweetheart,” you imagine saying.
“This my legacy, this
is what love looks like.”

Sitting in the garden you built,
you do not speak.
Your face carves
a pained smile as the hidden hand
begins to ache.

Your idea of protection
will be her idea of protection.
It is how she will one day long for you,
for the one hand you offered
until her eyes grew too heavy
for one hand.

I imagine the five long dense fingers of that hand
slowly unfurl
to wipe the first tear that did not quiver
for you,
and snap back;
your only wrist suddenly clasped
to your chest.

I watch this, fascinated, at the inevitable pain
of fatherhood,
recognizing my young fear of the hidden hand
breaking free.

I watch the last of both empires slip
from your grasp
as the hand you forgot
pummels
into the hand over your heart.
From behind your smile,
I watch your lips struggle
to explain the things
I now find easy to say.

Sitting in the garden you built,
you cannot move. Your body is bare,
scarred,
heaving,
empty.
One hand wipes the blood
from your breathing.
Your palms, you whisper,
are empty.
The garden, you notice, is empty.

What will you offer now?
Who will you offer this sudden knowledge
of the wrong hand untied
and empty?

Sitting in the garden you built,
you hold two kinds of emptiness in your hands.
One is bitter,
and the other
holds you together.

 

 

Note: The poem quoted is Good Bones by Maggie Smith. The image is from Philip Barlow’s website.

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