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March 3, 2007AWP Conference, AtlantaFrom the Academy Audio Archive
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Father Outside

Nick Flynn, 1960
A black river flows down the center
of each page

& on either side the banks
are wrapped in snow. My father is ink falling

in tiny blossoms, a bottle
wrapped in a paperbag. I want to believe
that if I get the story right

we will rise, newly formed,

that I will stand over him again
as he sleeps outside under the church halogen
only this time I will know

what to say. It is night &
it's snowing & starlings
fill the trees above us, so many it seems

the leaves sing. I can't see them
until they rise together at some hidden signal

& hold the shape of the tree for a moment
before scattering. I wait for his breath
to lift his blanket

so I know he's alive, letting the story settle

into the shape of this city. Three girls in the park
begin to sing something holy, a song
with a lost room inside it

as their prayerbook comes unglued

& scatters. I'll bend
each finger back, until the bottle

falls, until the bone snaps, save him

by destroying his hands. With the thaw
the river will rise & he will be forced
to higher ground. No one

will have to tell him. From my roof I can see
the East River, it looks blackened with oil

but it's only the light. Even now
my father is asleep somewhere. If I followed

the river north I could still reach him.

Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.

Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn was born in 1960 in Scituate, Massachusetts. He is the author of the poetry collections The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press, 2011), Blind Huber (Graywolf Press, 2002), and Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000).

by this poet

poem
When you see us swarm — rustle of

wingbeat, collapsed air — your mind
tries to make us one, a common

intelligence, a single spirit un-
tethered. You imagine us merely
searching out the next

vessel, anything

that could contain us, as if the hive
were just another jar. You try

to hold the ending, this
poem

Try this—close / your eyes. No, wait, when—if—we see each other / again the first thing we should do is close our eyes—no, / first we should tie our hands to something / solid—bedpost, doorknob— otherwise they (wild birds) / might startle us / awake. Are we forgetting something? What about that / warehouse, the one

poem

The newly dead hung on to the ceiling last night  

            like moths, wanting to tell us what they hadn’t

              found words for yet, their bodies still


warm on their mattresses below—they did not look

              comfortable, passing themselves