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My father would wake early and calmly
go about the business of giving himself
cancer. Red, the color itself,
sloshing in the tank behind him,
he'd drive the fencerows all morning,
spraying thistles.
I've always loved thistles
for how they hold their beauty
apart from us,
their purple blossoms
more beautiful for being
pain's fountaining,
like the beauty of the pain of martyrs.
In this way also they are
like those rare creatures,
mountain lions, owls, you
never dream of seeing, much less
touching. Which is why
he had to kill them
from a distance, a spherical mist
hanging in the air, a tongueless
bell of poison. Because who scythes
anymore? I can still see my father
unmasked like an actor backstage,
breathing as deeply
as he ever breathed,
while behind him already they were
beginning to yellow
like old, old annals in a chest
of drawers no one opens anymore.

Austin Smith

Princeton University Press

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