July 11, 2017

Go Forget Your Father

by Cathy Linh Che

Because the birds sculpted
the air with their song — 

I sent that flash across the sea.
Candle in a paper lantern,

the flame rose and dipped.

I’ve been hiding
from my father.

Fog-damp pall over the city.
I ink this bruise onto paper.

Years ago, in Highland Park,
we’d picnic in the backyard.

We slept in the living room.
I clung to my beautiful mother.

Flipped the pillow and pressed
against its coolness.

I held grudges like tiny fists of sand,
then, let go.

I kissed the fog and sky
and the ocean’s cobalt hue.

You. I hadn’t yet met you.

Murky alphabet — 

I falter the letter, I elide the gaps.
If the opalescent dew meant anything,

it meant that one day
I’d be lifted above my feelings.

You’d become less than a feeling,
the way every lover I’ve known

no longer hurts me.
Those old charges detonated.

Here and now, I make room for joy.
Birds ribbon the air with their singing.

Bird voices riot up. The planes
with their hulking engines — 

they fly too. The jags of each cliff head — 
Your lips — I uninterrupt.

I charley horse and miracle ride
your absence. The whipped froth of the ocean.

Puddle of salt water, shivering wound.
Seaweed, we sing of losses.

Cold under this blanket, I wait
for my alarm to sing.

I’ve polished this anger and now it’s a knife.
I’m hardened as a hunter ornamenting his cave

with the bones of the dead. I’m so sick
of history dragging behind me.

Today, I don’t want to be sad. But my father
has retreated into silence and the lashes

across his back have not healed,
and my mother tells me he could have killed

himself that night and we’d be blamed.
Call the police, she said.

We stood barefoot on the street, listening
to him throw things

against the garage walls, detonations
of only what we could imagine.

I hurl stones into the ether.
I wash my hands in ink.

The lost in the fog body borne of matter,
history-less, untethered.

Better to be alive and bewildered.
At least I can name the thing.

To love my father
is to love his wounds.

In times like these, we present our hurts
like old toys we polish up

to show each other
who we used to be.