MY FATHER ASKS WHAT I’M LOOKING AT
by Aza Pace
I walk through the woods with an eye for artifacts.
Night wells up out of the weeds and eddies
around my ankles, a stream of silver cats.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary.
But once, you walked out of an identical dusk,
and the trees made a sound like shushing a vast baby,
millions of leaf-like insects and luminous
frogs stirring awake. The way god is various and sedate.
You cradled an owl’s egg dropped from its nest.
It felt like something momentous.
Did it remind you of the first thing you killed: velvet
bird, its bright wound putting a stitch in your side?
You cried with the honest fat tears of children,
your peach-down cheeks stinging. I look just like you
when I cry and when I don’t. With an eye for artifacts,
we all collect feathers, stones, the odd bone
bleached and out of context, alone in the leaves.
Vases of feathers, boxes of skulls. We tried to revive
the egg under a lamp, but it had clamped shut
on the dark. So we kept it instead, bedded down
beside photos of our ancestors.
Once, you cupped a stunned robin
that mistook our window for the open air.
We held him just long enough for me to thumb
the sweet fruit of his head and send him winging off.
The trees absorbed him, made him anonymous again
like trees turned secret at night. Even my favorites
are strangers in the half-light, and who knows
what they think, what they whisper through their lacework
mycelia. I wonder if they know each other dimly—
elm and hickory, mimosa, pine—the way I know
the shadowy kin I’ve never met. Faces and faces
that rhyme with mine: an eye, an ear, a chin.
Or maybe these trees know each other more surely,
by touch. When I look, their silvery leaves are like
the glitz of fish in a net. But I’m always seeing things
two ways. Like: the night is the tide I walk through,
and it rises and falls like a curtain. The trees nod
on their stilts, heavy with invisible creatures.
I walk through the woods with the night.
I’ve come up empty-handed this time, childishly
disappointed. As I traipse toward the woods’ edge,
I recognize your shape cut out of the dark, approaching.
You wave through the grey static around us. If I squint
I can make you a boxer, a cowboy, but here you are
to offer me tea or wine. If you stroke my hair,
a thousand feathers will fly out, a thousand leaves.
When you ask me what I’m looking at, I don’t have the answer.