Midwinter Letter

Geoffrey Brock

Dear son of mine, dear daughter,
        the forecast called
for a fine evening, and we
did laugh at first, but then we bawled;
our wine turned into water.

even the moon was torn
            that night by schism,
half dark, half bright, but I—
blinded by rare optimism
and drunk on common scorn—
            believed a lie,

or more than one, and had
            the two of you
believing too. I’m sorry.
We didn’t know what not to do.
Our country had gone mad
            in a red flurry.


It fell to my dying father
            to say something true,
(as if your mother and I
had been relieved of duty), to
steady us both, gather
            us in his eye,

which was calm, and had seen
wars and genocides,
lower- and upper-case depressions,
and most things in between—
            and which abides

now, we must hope, in us.
            “This is the way
America works,” he told
your tearful mother as she lay
her head on his shoulder, his voice
            cool but not cold.


Detached despite attachment:
            like the alien
who briefs The Counselors
in that sci-fi poem he loved by Hayden…
Let’s say that he was sent
            to these our shores

from some counter-earth, obscured
            by a wreath of moons,
and now has been recalled.
And maybe even now he croons
“The Fox” or “Yellow Bird”
            to some space-child,

telling them tales till late
            of a world fraught
with “rage and bleeding and frenzy.”
Let’s say that: it’s a pretty thought
and as such counterweight
            to current trends.


I watched you, near that end,
            sitting beside
his throne-like hospice bed.
Mira, you read him poems: a ride,
a fish, a western wind.
            Ravi, you read

also, but silently,
            to yourself, hidden
in distant inscapes, afraid
of being blown, or caught, or ridden.
He stammered Innisfree,
            the bee-loud glade

buzzing in his mind’s ear.
            Oh paradox
on paradox. Oh little
boats with your engines and your oarlocks,
oh brilliant bilge: much here
            is beautiful.


Even the moon, that night,
            was fifty-fifty.
The talking heads droned on,
their facts and faces all as shifty
as sand or water, or light
            when the good light’s gone.

I’m trying to glimpse a future
            where fathers are better,
and countries, but all I see
tonight are spacemen. If this letter
should find you there, then picture
            a joyous me,

not this large child, grieving
            at four a.m.
for his earthbound father,
his failing country. No, not him;
he is a ghost. You’re living—
            and must live further

Geoffrey Brock is the author of two collections of poems (most recently Voices Bright Flags), the editor of The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, and the translator of numerous volumes from Italian, including Last Dream: Selected Poems of Giovanni Pascoli, forthcoming. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas, where he edits the Arkansas International.
Originally published:
April 1, 2019


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