The Vow

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We remitted my father this year to the nameless earth,
where no gods churn the ground with their invisible hands
and no resurrected form yet retains his strange acuity. We eulogized him
then went about our business, dazed for a time, then made a vow
to spread his ashes where he and his wife had left

their disparate passions. The business of the living is to return

the memories of the dead to a verbal corpus and to return
their myths to a physical place on the earth
and perhaps find some measure of comfort in what is left

after their ashes are wind-borne. My hands
tremble at this thought, the emptied vessel, the vow
to ascribe meaning to a meaningless death, to forget in him

a terrible iniquity and thus a childhood lost: yet also to find in him
such boundless joy among the aspen and evergreen, the return
to the garden, before the temptation and Adam’s vow,
before he rose up from God’s cruel breath and the earth,
before his own trembling hands
had limned the contours of his nakedness, and hers. All that is left

is this jar of desiccated dreams, all that is left
of my father is a thimbleful of questions. I still see him
when I dream, driving an empty bus, his hands
curled around the door handle like Charon on his return
from the River Styx, ferrying me and my daughter from the earth
across the threshold. Sometimes he vows

we will be safe on our journey; in other dreams, he vows
nothing, but is consigned to the end, rolling onto his left
side in silence like St. Lawrence on hot coals, the earth
finally collapsing in around him.
He was a martyr even among the living, and in return
we grieved at his every step downward, our hands

bound by his prophecy, knowing his hands
were summarily free to fashion his end. Yet I vow
that this is not his end, and that in these words he will return
if only for a moment from the edge of that darkling plain, where he left
Blake and Arnold to confer with him
under the shadow of the Earth.


This is my wish, to return his voice to the living; to feel his hands
once more upon my shoulder as I walk the earth, and to vow
this is not all that is left of him.