for my father
Each day I offer this kinetic prayer
to make myself his echo: a nib, a lock-blade,
my loud bandanna for his pressed
handkerchief, pen-knife, and Montblanc.
I stretch his wingtips on shoe-trees,
fray his old twill collars against my
bull-neck, and wear his baby blue tie
to my brother’s second wedding.
And though I fear him still
in my raised voice – feel the shame
of wielding words like a fist –
yet I thank him for teaching me
to mine the dark-lettered strata
of our dictionary’s bible-thin pages.
I keep the sacraments of language,
the only faith I was born to.
And just as memory’s edge
heals because it cuts away,
forgiveness kindles the flame
to burn our hurt to curling ash.
Grief demands these awful symmetries:
that we twin sentiments beyond
balance, that we learn how
deeply loss plumbs the depths of love.
Hailing from Eugene Walter’s Kingdom of Monkeys, John Miller was sent so frequently to look up words during family meals that he toted a dictionary to supper. A Pushcart nominee, Miller has published in Kindred, Lahar Berlin, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Heat Lightning, was published by Paper Nautilus in 2017.
Art: Untitled color study, acrylic on 10×8 paper, 2018
Artist Statement: I like the way this painting is a burst hanging amid the empty edges of the page. It calls to mind the depth and “awful symmetry” of grief, as well as the mess of mixed emotions that we can feel for our parents.