Our parents’ voices have been swallowed
By the earth. Their wishes for us are still
With them, clanking against the backs of their cold teeth.
We can no longer know
What they almost confided in us,
What we desperately wanted to hear,
What was always just behind the gates of their
We look upon what they have
And realize that the end is
In the trembling underbelly of the pressing storm;
In the topographical map of our skin, the years
Etched there indelibly, thickening our tolerance for
In our families, the generations heeling like
Boats on the loyal tides–riding the keel
Between the sea stacks and the clamming beds, tacking between
The sand dollar beaches and the remote reefs,
Swinging wildly between love and guilt, mast lines jangling
Like church bells, sails luffing and blown full–
We wait for the bottom to blow holes in
In the glittering yellow leaves
Tumbling like lost dreams
Through the back alleys of our lantern-lit minds–
Everywhere. In the funereal afternoons, we sit in mothballed rooms
The bark unravel on our bony branches.
The tight feeling in our joints
The cold prick of winter’s coming needle;
The hearses leaving churches
On lonely weekday
Mornings. In the evenings, the rooms become cloistered like coffins so
We step outside and run
Our hands through our hair
In the brittle breeze and
Out. At night, on these empty front porches,
The air is redolent with rain
And the smell of their closets, their sheets.
We wince, close our eyes, and see
The sunsets of our youth
Weeping impossible light
Onto the swollen hills
Of our idealism, our naivete.
We remember believing in perfection:
The green oxbow in the river
Where the salmon pooled up like rippling ecstasy;
The chaotic clusters of the grape arbor;
The gentle lapping of the waves
On the shores of our imaginations;
Our parents’ pedestals;
The benefit of toil, the way it tore away
The detritus of hurt;
The downy hair of infants, tufting out from
We peer into the darkness
From these slouching and weather-beaten platforms,
From the abandoned monasteries of our lives.
We cross ourselves relentlessly while
Life clatters all around us–we are
Smeared with the whorling imprints of
Bliss. At midnight, after the wine and the festivals of the human heart,
We are content, maybe even ebullient,
To be lost in the undertow
Of each other.
We know that in the morning we will be glad
For another cup of coffee.
We have reached a detente with
Their dusty voices, their silence,
With our orphaned regret.
Maybe next time
We will give what is so
Desperately needed from us.
The whining world tries to drown out their wisdom;
Don’t you want to live forever?
Instead, we steady our palsied souls
And stumble on
Towards the sacred.
Greg Maddigan lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and children. He teaches at the On Track Academy. Greg is the author of the chapbook of poems, PADDLING THROUGH THE MERIDIAN’S WAKE (Finishing Line Press). Greg’s poetry has also appeared in the LEGENDARY, the TIPTON POETRY JOURNAL, the CORTLAND REVIEW, the WILDERNESS HOUSE LITERARY REVIEW, and the GREY SPARROW JOURNAL.