Thats where your father
had his accident, my father
through the cracked windshield
to the dropoff where hed plunged that car
into spiky shrubs thirty feet below.
But I knew
anyway from my mothers
enraged voice on the phone,
then from the barred
it was no accident.
That gesturehis finger tracing
vaguely all he couldnt talk about
comes back to me now, through
Caravaggio, where Christ
guides the apostles pointing finger
with sexual tenderness
into the smooth, apparently permanent
gash in his breast.
Through his one sentence, my fathers
voice was rough with such regret
for having tried, or having failed,
I couldnt tell
I only knew his scarred
arm on the steering wheel
scared me, and his sweet
whiskey breath, and the broken guardrail
stabbing its twisted metal
over the skidmarks still there down the edge . . .
I thought: he must have tried to make it stop.
But I didnt want to know,
didnt want to watch
his headlights scoop out that canyon
or the darkness fill it back up,
or his lips, lit by a cigarette stub,
try to tell me what had gone wrong
and I didnt say a thing
as he twisted the radio dial
from gospel to Muzak to static,
coughed his dry, frightened cough
and watched me from the side of his eye.
The torn seat squeaking on its hinges
was the only sound as we rumbled
down the brick streets of Macon
where I watched his back
disappear through glass
doors throbbing with dancing bottles.
In Caravaggios painting, the voyeur
so close around Jesus and Thomas,
gazing hard as the fingertip
slips into the pucker of wound.
They all want to know what its like
inside the cut, risen body,
but theyre scared of what
the touch might do; its assuring to watch
the curious one
penetrate first. But Thomas
is tense, his forehead ridged,
his throat tight as he goes
deeper into the fresh
opening just under the skin
hes mortified, like one
admitted where he can never belong.
Still, Caravaggio has torn
the shoulder seam
on his red robe, which means
hes as human as Christ,
available to damage too. My father
died a year after that ride, and now
I dont even know
where the road he showed me
is. At fourteen, I closed my eyes
and let his old Nova
carry me home,
the Ocmulgee Rivers
smell of mud-clogged kudzu and swampgrass
washing over my fathers Jack Daniels.
He turns back to me now,
when I want him to, lifts
his shaking hand to the window,
and points again down the cliff,
and the flesh-
colored robe opens, and the finger
pierces just under the heart,
and the hand with its nailhole coaxes
the bewildered witness in.
The Corpse Flower:
New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2006).