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.
Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.
About this Poem
Born in 1960, Nick Flynn is the author of the poetry collections My Feelings (Graywolf Press, 2015), The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press, 2011), Blind Huber (Graywolf Press, 2002), and Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000), which was the recipient of the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award.
Date Published: 2004-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/father-outside