R. Allen Shoaf
Published on: 7/28/2005
My Father's Church
Yesterday I went walking in the woods near my house;
I stopped to watch a snake shed its skin, parchment
for a mightier pen, and I remembered.
Further up, Abbott's Creek deepens;
there, my father went fishing when he was a boy.
Here, where a car can pull on up to the water's edge
(old quarry roads lead to the run-down bridge),
the creek widens out, shallows beneath the canopy
of huge oaks and pines, and laps against the rocks,
enormous backbones of giants only boys can remember.
Here, on Sunday mornings, we'd visit, my father's church --
war will do that to a man -- and we'd shuck our clothes,
soft boys shrivelling in the cold creekwater,
while he'd squat on the rocks and smoke a cigarette,
maybe swig a drink of liquor, and stare into the water
till his eyes were as black as the shadow-haunted creek,
and I'd turn around not knowing where it got too deep.
An hour would pass, maybe two, and he'd call us out,
dry us with our shirts, and load us in the car;
my tongue of fear stuck to the roof of my mouth
I remember to this day how he'd drive over that bridge,
and I'd hear it creak -- God knows how old it must have been --
and then through the field where there wasn't any road,
deeper and deeper he'd go (Billy was too young to understand)
and I'd sit shivering in the seat beside him, too old to cry.
He'd park it at last, in the middle of the field, and get out,
stand there awhile and then bow his head: gradually I'd see
his shoulders begin to shake and his big hands clench,
as around the butt of his old M1 (marksman he was:
196 out of 200 bullseyes), and I'd tremble to see my father cry
in the field so quiet under a sky so huge on Sunday morning.
Remembering I stood and gradually I felt
my shoulders begin to shake and my hands start to clench --
but I have no gun, nor would my aim be sharp enough,
to fell the giant who taught me to feel the weight of a child
on the back of a man come to pray in his father's church.
Published on: 2/25/2005
The Boy in Chains
He died again in my dream last night.
In the amphitheater where the excavation
Proceeds on schedule never to completion,
I went with the guard to arrest the innocent,
In our belts the chains blindingly bright
New-fired from the forge found at the center
The ancientest ring, where the magus performed
The sacrificial rites. He was so quiet
When we seized him. Heavy with chains
He stumbled between us out into the light,
Then crumpled in a corner under the weight.
I knelt to rouse him but collapsed myself
Groping for my brother beneath the chains
And wept as I held us in a final embrace.
In the morning I woke a boy in chains
About me wound as a man in dreams is wound.
Published on: 11/23/2004
The Father Gives His Boy a Knife
It's the late 50s. The war is over a long time now.
(Soldiers still killing, though, wives, children, niggers
whoever's weak and handy to the rage left over from theaters of war.)
Saturday afternoon, drunk as usual, he gives his son
a boy's hunting knife ("A present for you.") with a plastic grip
and paper-thin leather holster for pinning your belt through.
Leaves to get more liquor and the boy practices throwing his knife,
boasting to his brothers. Grip splatters apart.
Terrified he pieces it back together again with model airplane glue.
Comes home: "Let's see your knife."
Plastic mess in his hand, he assaults his son in his drunken slur:
"Everybody knows any decent soldier sneaks up behind a man and stabs him in the back."