March 13, 2017

"Where Was I before I Was Born?"

by Joe Wilkins

With me, though differently
early light slanting through cypress
and your mother calling, softly,
from the warm, dark room I left
for a glass of water.

Or before, when the beautiful idiot
who was my one burning friend slipped
from the bridge's lip and fell through starlight,
you were the sharp, glassy shards
of light in my eyes.

Or when the man I never knew
who would be my father drove all night
through the prairie dark, his blood howling
for everything and nothingremember,
he did not know how any of this would go.

With your grandmother, then,
wandering the fields, lowering herself
to the earth, though water-swollen and awkward
as she was it was all she could do to touch and not tear
the small, green hands of wheat.

The long way up from Oklahoma
you rode your great-grandfather's right shoulder.
He was sixteen, wild and tired, and you were the one
dipper of rinse water he was allowed
come nightfall.

The year after, when he swung his two fists
at his own father's drunken face, you
were all the many bones, the bruises rising
beneath both skins. You, the boiling blood. You,
the breath funneling in and out. You,

the mad, hard hearts
every muscle and sinew, you
I'm telling you there was a world before
and there will be a world after, and they are the same
and only world, and I turn now and bow

to everything that breaks my heart
which is where you were, that place
hope lives, in the breaking.