Days have been good, recently, but nights hard. My mind sings songs of want & ruin, the dark cruel even to its own desperate ghosts. When the sun comes up things are all right again—impromptu lunch dates, poems scrawled on coffee shop napkins, monsoon season outside the window with the birds sleeping like saints—but the nights. The nights always catch me by the throat.
Today’s poem is from one of those more frantic nights, penned in a bit of a fever dream. I haven’t been acutely suicidal in a little while but on one of the nights it did happen, this piece sprung from the ashes. So grateful that it’s found a home in an absolute dream journal, Sundog Lit—as well as chosen as first place in the LGBTQIA+ category of the 2018 Ellis Awards.
Infinitely kind words from judge Erin O’Malley: “‘War Story With My Father’ is luminous in the honesty its narrator speaks with. Lines like ‘If I'm lying / through my teeth, at least I still / have the long way home’ remind us of our own reasoning between who we are and who our families want us to be. Much like how the speaker refers to home as ‘not my father's hands, but / rather, the light they reflect / when burning,’ this poem is the burning and the light.”
Thank you for listening, dear friends. I hope you, too, find some light through the darkness in this piece. xx
War Story With My Father
Any dream, as long as it begins
with treacherous. With mercy
borne back & aching from the
fingertips inward. If I’m lying
through my teeth, at least I still
have the long way home. If this
is where my father ends, at least
I still have his hands for ransom.
I say you are every reason I cannot
blink anymore & he says you can’t
blame me for all of this gasoline. It’s
enough for the knife & the
tongue. After him there are no
ways to make dusk small again.
No method to serenade grief
soft enough for the streets to
swallow. You can’t undo glory.
You can’t force a home to
unwind & fix itself. My mother
tells me that my father only yells
because he is afraid. Finally,
something we have in common.
I see the hurt in his eyes when
I flinch as he tries to hug me &
I want to say it’s not your fault but
all that comes out is I swear there
was a time when I didn’t starve in
this language. Dislocation in car
window & my father spins
creation on the rooftops. All
my little achings with no sleep
to dampen. So many things I
invent to avoid rescue. My
father comes from a long
time ago, sings hemorrhage of
black & human. His eyes like
a night helpless in forgetting.
I say these are dangerous times to
be a daughter. He says enough
with the metaphors, you’re making
your mother sad. I speak these
vowels without oxygen to
spark a murder. Fury is just
as human as fear & every girl
I’ve ever brought home tells
me I smile in the same way
as my father. I’m beginning
to understand why, even in
sleep, all hospital parking lots
remain full of hope: home is
not my father’s hands, but
rather, the light they reflect