Virgil: Dwindle

—For My Father

Honor thy
        To thine own
                 Be of good
                           Do no

                 but harm is already the background,
        a hum attuned, though we are not, to
the recent hue: his face becoming gradually blued

        the way, if you watch, in slow evening-time, distant
                mountains will somehow purple-up,

        but closer, like indigo velvet in the box
beneath his Navy Flying Cross,
        a little darkling sea in there, patriotic, roiling…

                Foiled, his hours
        trundle, lurch, or, more likely, creep

moss-slow. Think how that must feel
        —at sundown, say, stand in his room,
                cock your brain just so, and day

        ignites: through venetian blinds, a huge
doctor-headlamp in the face of all,

        the tunnel-end of all,
                the holy All we quailed at, formerly,
        but now, as the wrench of ownership pulls

his face from the lovelinesses he spent
        seven decades seeing, find

               we are going to face. About face:
        in the trawled-through afternoon’s
minnowy, shadowy exigencies we say the names of

        mother, father, wife, daughter, daughter,
               and each one bounces off until

        his pillow is littered with family tree tinder
without which the brain’s little scout-fire
               cannot even hope to start.

               For that is what His Cogency wants from us,
        isn’t it? 

Warmth. Keep him warm. Light a fire.
        Kneel. Use the bellows. Blow.
               Again: Kneel. Bellow. Blow. Again:

From Horizon Note by Robin Behn © 2001 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.