Father, Farther: 1986

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
“feed him the land, that is what they’re fighting for…”
Evening raid on a day        I don’t exist yet
It is hot        as a crucible my grandfather dragged
out of the house         arrested for possessing
illicit maps of the new        state for harboring
a party of separatist      leaders who sit
smoking evenings      in our teahouse
biding         headcounts of the vanished
Across the border        my mother hurries
my father to the market        for salt to make dinner
On the way he meets       the man he reports to
at the Army Welfare Project         & this man
insists on buying my father       a drink
Meanwhile        my mother’s waiting
begins & in her        wait a blue chasm opens
Opens to where       her father-in-law his feet
noose-tied through a fan        hook yanked
upside down is stripped         naked waterboarded
before they pummel         him in the chest in the
stomach        Later of course they’ll feed him
fresh shovelled earth        until it plugs
his windpipe         & he cannot spit
soil         can only will himself unconscious
as the taste grows familiar        Like all men
who’ve seen death        come walking
on bare hands         my grandfather dreams
a bright long dream            he is wincing
as his eldest daughter      cleans the caked
blood off his eyelids          with alcohol
With alcohol         the more he drinks
my father is farther         away from dinner
from my mother waiting           in the small
unheated quarter-house         How she moves
in front of a tall mirror           touches the bindi in place
& something else —         reaches for a sound
of me in her womb         I’m not there
yet —       the swept floors of her sorrow
the aftersigh not me        but her firstborn
stilled on arrival        And my father now
begins to tell a story      to the man
who asks         Why are you people
making a fuss        about a new state?
Look he whispers         this country of savages
Savages & us       sitting here warming
our bellies with their brandy      us honest men
from two countries         One thing he won’t
tell my father: the other       my father
won’t correct: why       the ladder for men
like him       is designed sideways
why they are two men        honest hardly but
from the same nation          state of famine
& floodsong           Instead my father feels
a need to go further        back & here he is
telling another drunk         about the time
he was a little boy       staking out acres of land
against armed policemen         in the middle
of a teeming forest           with my grandfather
Grandfather herding        my grandmother
my father & the daughter        to the jungle
instructing all his men        to do the same so
the police don’t resort       to beating & blinding
This land         they’d been clearing patiently
for months         & how on the ninth day
the daughter        vomited the fever
black as the damp      night fell asleep
in her & never woke       My father remembers
the bloating belly       her thirteen-year-old
body thrashing        long hair & pale skin
flaking in the heat         My father meant
to make a point through this         his story
but he’s drunk         & the changkhang shutters
The shutters come down        two a.m.
my father stutters         uphill coat folded
over shoulder          Mother waiting on
a wicker chair outside         dew softening hemline
of her petticoat cold        rage turning her
white        & that moment Grandfather’s eyes
blink open     tears have rivered back down
his forehead in a pool of red         on the floor
he’s been weeping         in the soil-dark
sleep of the bats         Now bewildered
awake his chest breaks       a ground-
swell of black horses     as he remembers
he’s sent him     slow son across the border
where rifle barrels calcify       in the long rust of peace
Wednesday, January 15, 2020