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.
Nick Flynn - 1960-
Years later I’m standing before a roomful of young writers in a high school in Texas. I’ve asked them to locate an image in a poem we’d just read—their heads at this moment are bowed to the page. After some back & forth about the grass & a styrofoam cup, a girl raises her hand & asks, Does it matter? I smile—it is as if the universe balanced on those three words & we’ve landed in the unanswerable. I have to admit that no, it doesn’t, not really, matter, if rain is an image or rain is an idea or rain is a sound in our heads. But, I whisper, leaning in close, to get through the next forty-seven minutes we might have to pretend it does.