Two Poems by Katherine Grace-Bond

Sphinx

 Awareness comes slowly:

The soft darkness,

the quilt on the bed, the stalking

shapes of furniture. My eyes

tunnel down to a pinprick of light.

 

My mother is there—

a small silhouette, growing larger.

“Alice, I need your help.”

Urgent.

I sit swiftly, slide my feet

onto the carpet, stand

with little notion what

she’s asking, but

Emergency.

Dad.

Adrenaline rush,

I am needed.

 

My feet on the carpet--

Now!

A fluttering in my stomach,

not fear:

A depth charge

in the sea of me.

My feet on the carpet

take me through the door,

pivot left.

Her hands

are on my back,

my flannel nightgown

brushes my calves.

 

She stops me

behind the wingback chair,

rough fiber under my hands.

I hold on.

 

My father is by the last-check mirror,

the one you look in just before departure.

He has his jacket on.

My stomach

knots a warning.

 

I keep my feet

on the carpet. 

I will not take flight.

 

“Look,” says Mom.

“I want you to look

at your daughter

and tell me that you can do

what you just said you were going to do.”

 

I stare at the coffee table.

I am the Sphinx-

the riddle between my father

and disaster.

His eyes are on me.

He blows a held breath out his cheeks.

Not for her, the stopped train of him.

 

He can’t,

whatever it was,

He can’t

with me here.

I didn’t even need to speak.

 

 

I Hold Poems

 

Those most beautiful

I can’t read for a crowd.

When Sexton, blind with love,

sees her daughter’s life stretch out,

When Thomas sings in his chains like the sea,

and refuses to mourn--

 

Once I am in that cold embrace

they carry me along and up and down the peaks of waves.

I am in thrall.

They make me pull in my breath.

my throat aches its resistance.

 

And sometimes in my search for words

I feel my face draw shut

when an image opens,

tender as a wound in my mouth.

 

Sometimes I write about my father,

discovering, even after fifty years

the fresh mark of his inscrutable rage,

and reading it as loss.

 

Once I took him out

and brought a book of poems.

He complained

about the slowness of the coffee,

barked at the waiter for not knowing

that Belgian waffles have strawberries,

not peaches, goddamnit.

 

I read him a poem by Shelley,

one that wouldn’t bring me to shame,

and another by Hopkins that almost did.

 

“Now you,” I told him, sliding the book across.

He turned the pages and began,

stopped,

began again,

then, in midsentence, closed the book.

“Can’t,” he said, and looked away,

my father,

bearing my unshed tears.