Poetry Daily: http://www.poems.com/


        ...with toil of breath...
                 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Epitaph"

My father, who loved the comics, became Dagwood

every night: "SKNX-X-X-X" his open sleeping mouth
would utter, part of an untranslatable somniloquy

I'd hear through the flimsy wall between his twin bed

and mine, my dad a dazzling rackety mockingbird
doing chainsaw, hawk scream, flooded car, horse snort,

snout and throat and cheek and trembling soft palate

shaping his respiration into an improvisation
that would sometimes suddenly simply halt, cut off

midphrase as if strangled into the deadest silence,

and my mother and I would wonder if this was it,
maybe he'd pushed his virtuoso breath beyond

the outer blackout limits of mortal endurance,

maybe he'd snorkeled too deep and couldn't quite
make it to the surface without choking on water,

though just as I was about to pound on the wall

or she was rising to cry "Bill!" and run to his bed
he'd exhale, rejoining the living breathing world,

sometimes relaxing into a snoring so sotto voce

it finally lulled us to sleep, a tender lip-puffing
almost like he was blowing us moist farewell kisses,

a mellow interlude before the next thunderstorm

of snores he'd pour on our heads until morning,
gargling the house's darkness then broadcasting it

in hiss and bleat and gag and growl and snuffle,

never once hearing his guttural protolanguage
whose slapstick consonants refused to settle down.

Michael McFee

Southern Poetry Review

Issue 51, Number 1

To view this poem online, visit the Poetry Daily archive at http://www.poems.com/archive.php
View a large-print version of this poem