for Benjamin and Jonathan
My father stirring sugar in a glass of tea
and I at his bedside, asking
little questions that fit inside
the big ones I didn't dare ask.
He might have figured out he was dying.
I'm dying. Not to worry: not any time soon,
I hope. But just so you know.
I keep asking myself,
Should I burn my journals?
Such a quiet man, my father.
As a child I learned to read
the blanks between the words.
More blanks than words.
What was he taking with him
into his death?
I sat there day after day translating
his unquiet eyes.
What a narrow conduit
between parent and child,
cramped as a mail slot.
It's a wonder anything gets through.
My father woke from agitated sleep.
Cossacks pounding on the door.
In the terrified silence of the hospital room,
I heard him crying for his mother.
I saved a picture Jonathan made at six:
black hair bristling, the face bright green,
legs planted apart like stanchions,
the belly a fiery furnace.
“That's what you look like when you're angry.”
He was right about that fire.
I burned a lot of things in secret.
I wanted to save the two of you
from the deadness that lived in our house.
Even smoke-blind, I could always see you.
It was you who saved me.
Would it help you to know
the scope of my confusions?
Night after night, I recorded
the unabridged version of the day,
black ink on blue-lined paper,
then hid it away.
The key to the safe is under the sugar bowl.