Portrait of My Father as a Pianist

Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped convict, he climbs
wild-eyed, one hand out—
           running its twin on the rails

of a broken Steinway. Who
           has not been found guilty
of a carrion cry—the dream

           of a feathered departure
one has not earned, then fall
           back down teeming fault lines

of the flesh? Memory recedes
           into nocturne, a kingdom born
of spruce and fading light—

           he reaches in the end what
he had to begin with: fingertips
           on corrupted tissue, cathedral

of octaves in his thinning
           breath, tears like small stubborn
gods refusing to fall. 

More by Cynthia Dewi Oka

Redacted from a Know-Your-Rights Training Agenda—

That a potholed street in the middling borough of Collingswood, New Jersey, bears the name Atlantic, after an all-consuming body of water.
 
That all-consuming is Atlas’ curse to bear the heavens on his shoulders.
 
That after the fall of the gods, half of the heavens is darkness.
 
That inside the car speeding down the street, I believe I am safe from being halved. 
 
That “I” am not a white box, but a body of water.
 
That white is a pattern of boys who expect to live long enough to become men.
 
That some of these boys are whistling by on their bikes, and behind them, clear as a dream, welcome candles in the windows framed by blooms of vervain.
 
That “welcome” means I thought I was not afraid of the dark.
 
Since the jade scrubs of the cancer ward.
 
Since the florescent grid of the factory and the vista of small bones in my father’s collar while I was interpreting for the twenty-something-year-old white citizen,
 
                             “Tell your dad he can quit or I can fire him.”
 
Grief had already burst its cocoon; it ate him like an army of moths from the inside.
 
That brown men and women kept stitching jackets under the heavens of the machines.
 
Welcome.
 
That a moth is trapped in the car with me – it will die, but I do not want to practice florescence alone.
 
Like a first language bleeding hearts call, speaking truth to power.
 
I don’t know how they don’t know that power doesn’t care.
 
That watching fires go out will become a pattern.
 
That fire is everywhere, and therefore, cheap.
 
That the hole in my foundation is all-consuming and at its bottom a frangipani tree opens its yellow hands.
 
That POLICE ICE is printed in yellow or white on the jacket of the night.
 
That the night walks freely among the ranks of the sun.
 
That a body of water parted once like a red skirt then sealed over the armored horses of Egypt.
 
That Whitney Houston is a bone blasting
 
out the car windows.
 
That tonight, the night after, the night after that, for as long as the distance between god and a pothole, a moth’s flight will spell,
 
                                	“They are coming for you.”

Related Poems

Reading to My Father

I come back indoors at dusk-end. I come back into the room with

your now finished no-longer-aching no-longer-being

body in it, the candle beside you still lit—no other

light for now. I sit by it and look at it. Another in

from the one I was just peering-out towards now, over

rooftops, over the woods, first stars.

The candle burns. It is so quiet you can hear it burn.

Only I breathe. I hear that too.

Listen I say to you, forgetting. Do you hear it Dad. Listen.

What is increase. The cease of increase.

The cease of progress. What is progress.

What is going. The cease of going.

What is knowing. What is fruition.

The cease of. Cease of.

What is bloodflow. The cease of bloodflow

of increase of progress the best is over, is over-

thrown, no, the worst is yet to come, no, it is

7:58 p.m., it is late spring, it is capital’s apogee, the

flow’s, fruition’s, going’s, increase’s, in creases of

matter, brainfold, cellflow, knowing’s

pastime, it misfired, lifetime’s only airtime—candle says

you shall out yourself, out-

perform yourself, grow multiform—you shall self-identify as

                                  still

mortal—here in this timestorm—this end-of-time

storm—the night comes on.
 
 
Last night came on with you still here.

Now I wait here. Feel I can think. Feel there are no minutes in you

Put my minutes there, on you, as hands—touch, press,

feel the flying-away, the leaving-sticks-behind under the skin, then even the skin

abandoned now, no otherwise now, even the otherwise gone.

I lay our open book on you, where we left off. I read. I read aloud—

grove, forest, jungle, dog—the words don’t grip-up into sentences for me,

                   it is in pieces,

I start again into the space above you—grandeur wisdom village

tongue, street, wind—hornet—feeler runner rust red more—oh

more—I hear my voice—it is so raised—on you—are you—refinery portal

land scald difference—here comes my you, rising in me, my feel-

                   ing your it, my me, in-

creasing, elaborating, flowing, not yet released from form, not yet,

still will-formed, swarming, mis-

informed—bridegroom of spume and vroom.

I touch your pillowcase. I read this out to you as, in extremis, we await

those who will come to fix you—make you permanent. No more vein-hiss. A

                   masterpiece. My phantom

father-body—so gone—how gone. I sit. Your suit laid out. Your silver tie. Your

                   shirt. I don’t know

                   what is

needed now. It’s day. Read now, you’d say. Here it is then, one last time, the

                   news. I

                   read. There is no

precedent for, far exceeds the ability of, will not

                   adapt to, cannot

                   adapt to,

but not for a while yet, not yet, but not for much longer, no, much

sooner than predicted, yes, ten times, a hundred times, all evidence

                   points towards.

                   What do I tell my child.

Day has arrived and crosses out the candle-light. Here it is now the

silent summer—extinction—migration—the blue-jewel-

butterfly you loved, goodbye, the red kite, the dunnock, the crested tit, the cross-

billed spotless starling (near the top of the list) smokey gopher—spud-

wasp—the named storms, extinct fonts, ingots, blindmole-made-

tunnels—oh your century, there in you, how it goes out—

how lonely are we aiming for—are we there

yet—the orange-bellied and golden-shouldered parrots—

I read them out into our room, I feel my fingers grip this

page, where are the men who are supposed to come for you,

most of the ecosystem’s services, it says,

will easily become replaced—the soil, the roots, the webs—the organizations

of—the 3D grasses, minnows, mudflats—the virtual carapace—the simulated action of

forest, wetland, of all the living noise that keeps us

company. Company. I look at you.

Must I be this machine I am

become. This brain programming

blood function, flowing beating releasing channeling.

This one where I hold my head in my hands and the chip

slips in and click I go to find my in-

formation. The two-headed eagle, the

beaked snake, the feathered men walking sideways while looking

ahead, on stone, on wall, on pyramid, in

sacrifice—must I have already become when it is all still

happening. Behind you thin machines that ticked and hummed until just now

are off for good. What I wouldn’t give, you had said last night, for five more

minutes here. You can’t imagine it. Minutes ago.

Ago. It hums. It checks us now, monitoring

this minute fraction of—the MRI, the access-zone, the

aura, slot, logo, confession-

al—I feel the hissing multiplying

satellites out there I took for stars, the bedspread’s weave, your being tucked-in—

goodnight, goodnight—Once upon a time I say into my air,

and I caress you now with the same touch

as I caress these keys.