Two Birds
Christopher Howell

                        Did you find the city of isolated men beyond the mountains?
                        Or have you been holding the end of a frayed rope
                        For a thousand years?                     --James Wright

The frayed rope swings with breeze
and nothing on the end of it
except the mind, perhaps, or my father
sharpening his saw in the side yard,
the last bit of orchard spreading arthritically
above him.  Up there, too, a sky
of purple and sand blue clouds
masses like thought, though my father
thinks only that he needs a better file,
that it will rain in thirty-five minutes,
that he is dead and indifferent to this.
He probably knows how hard it is
not to touch his arm or whisper
his name
just above the shying of the breeze, the mild
screech of metal arguing with metal
like two birds pulling at the same worm.
Now and then he pauses and looks
At my form beginning to appear.
How long it takes, the work of being,
standing on one foot and another
as I do, handing him tools and asking “why”
six times a minute, playing absently
with the dog.  And there is so much
to do, my father’s beautiful face, its calm
attentiveness, tells me
as he straightens to view the sky again, certain
it will rain in a thousand years, that we will enter
that house gone to strangers and rubble
and lose ourselves, each of us reaching out
for what we must have been together
long ago and tomorrow and after the rain.

Originally appeared in Gettysburg Review

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