How will things grow in a season like this?
Sun turned skin to fractured nets,
cracked and ashen to the touch.
The shoulders darkening,
then the forearms, two twigs
I used for fanning.
To eat was hard, much less
to sleep, to breathe!
Forgive my lips their small divorce.
Such summers that we could not bear.
And yet my father, with pulpy loam between his toes
heaved vessels of water from the stream.
River to paddy, river to paddy, such mindless repetition
that even the vessels sunk
into senselessness, tired
of hoisting, sagging down as a sow’s low belly. The water
waking the tender field to parched murmurs.
At day’s end, he collapses on the bend,
heart pounding through ribcage, breath cast down
like ripe peach falling.
To his wedding, my father wore a grey suit, bespoke and paid
with borrowed money.
Not knowing what to name his children
he cast the die among flowers and incense,
loving that smell of heady resin.
Studious, he was not born to bear arms,
preferring books to shells, late afternoons
on the sun-warmed darkness of a water buffalo’s back.
A devout man, anxious about heaven,
he spends late life atoning.
He will not speak much of the dead. Not speak
of pain or hunger, war or torture, how many and where.
Merely lets the silence consume
our small, beleaguered home.
Father, the killer, the victim: a dead man
living, haunted and pursued.
Ghosts stalk through his dreams, and he wakes
to cold paralysis. His days are hemmed in
by the innumerable voices
arguing amongst themselves.