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My Father's Soul Departing

Little soul, charismatic vagabond,
Honored guest, comrade of the body.
Now you shall depart into those regions
Fogbound, anesthetized, and barren.
Here your laughter served you well.
There, everlasting, your mouth's stitched shut.
                      —Hadrian, "Animula"

Assume, dear vagabond, you are permitted
    One last survey. Your twenty-one grams of sentience,
         Little soul—the weight exactly

Of a ruby-throated hummer—shall hover
    The foliated stamens of your
         Earthly measure. How you dart & pivot,

Honored guest, your thirst unquenchable.
    Here is Milbank, South Dakota,
         The saffron dust bowl where your father,

Dear comrade, raises his belt to crisscross your back:
    The five & twenty lesions. Here the state hospital,
         Your mother ballooning with insulin

To induce the coma meant to cure the demons
    Marauding the precincts of her abject brain.
         Now you shall depart: a milk run in Duluth,

A quart bottle bursting on a frozen stoop, then
    A troop ship bound for Tunis, & into those regions
         Of desert where you wander your forty days.

You rifle the pockets of a dead Wehrmacht corporal:
    Luger & a snakebite kit. & now you lean
         From a baggage car door, hefting a postal sack

As the train slows for a station—Breckinridge
    Or Sleepy Eye—slows but will not stop
         For twenty-seven years. The railroad men's

Hotels along the tracks, pulls of bourbon
    From a dented flask. The white Dakota plains—
         Fogbound, anesthetized, & barren.

Montage of seven Chevy Biscaynes, the songbook
    Of Earnest Tubb. A shingled ranch, deriving from
         The GI Bill. GARDEN SIX TWO FOUR

SEVEN SEVEN, the receiver lifted from its cradle
    As you weep to a stranger who's purloined
         Your pension. Pulls of bourbon

From a highball glass, from a coffee cup, the thrall
    & ratchet of ECT, your dress rehearsal
         For oblivion. What I remember: your laughter

Did not serve you well. Honored guest, comrade
    Of the body, your farewell is complete.
         Blessèd the descent which beckons.

There, everlasting, your mouth's stitched shut.

David Wojahn


Issue 76

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