The Celebrated Colors of the Local Sunsets

The day feels as thin
as the letters fading from
half a can of spray paint
a decade ago on the brick wall
of the closed down
Suder Feed Supply where we used
to skateboard and think
of all the crimes the police
could punish us with
for being poor, and teenagers,
for wearing skin-tight jeans
and growing our hair
like a girl’s, for almost anything—
at least it felt like it then.
I can’t imagine home
without thinking of the past
and the faintest stir
of indignation. It’s beside the point.
Today, I’m revisiting Miłosz
with a pen pressed to the pages
making notes in the margins.
In 1987, in Berkeley,
he is doing the same, and thinking
back on the end of his countries, their
“posthumous existence.” Like him
I know a place
I can’t return to, and without
much imagination can picture
everything coming apart, one way
or another. When I imagine
how it might go, it is
just like this: I am memorizing
bird calls and wild
plants which become a blur
at the far edge of my yard,
their Latin names tangled
in my mouth. Didn’t I
already show you this?
The country at twilight
and a far-off darkness
of pines, a deep red sky
imagined for this page. What I left out
wasn’t meant to be remarkable—
a bruise faded from the surface,
the wounds buried
like overwintered wasps
plotting assassinations
beneath the snow. So let’s see
if I can draw it into focus,
like the truant daydreaming in class
suddenly with something to say—
the one end I know complete.
Once, I thanked my father
for the gift of this life,
something he didn’t hear.
It was two years before he died
and he was high
on the translucent painkillers
the hospital ordered to keep him
comfortable after surgery.
It was as real as anything
I ever told him. I stood
over him in the hospital bed
and traced the outline of his body
under the gown, the collar and hip bones,
his stomach, his penis, and balls,
numbered the black stars
printed on the cotton and listened
to him breathe, mouth
open, just so, a way
into the hive growing in his chest.
He didn’t hear, and then, he couldn’t.
In those years, I barely spoke to him
and now not an hour can pass
I don’t hear him, now that
what he has to say is always
final, always a last word. And
Miłosz is buried in Kraków
and my father has entered
eternity as ash, and I am
certain what doesn’t last
lasts—Hydrangea quercifolia,
Hypericum densiflorum,
Solidago rugosa

Copyright © 2019 by Matthew Wimberley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 23, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.