Volume 68, Number 2 · Spring 2019

Questions About the Father

  But what will you tell the child when the child begins to ask?
          —Social Worker, Washington, D.C., 2017


What name can I call him?

Listen. Our language is well-known
for its frequency of the silent

letters: the h, for example, in honor,
g and its ghost in the phlegm.

What you can’t hear is
meaningless, though it’s rumored

vineyard’s e once signaled
an infinite number of grapes

on the trellis. Each arm
stretched from here to where

the human eye could never manage.


So he is a real person then?

Yes. He is nearsighted.
Plays the clarinet.

In this version, the reed agrees
it won’t make a sound,

the way weeds camber
into luftpause just before

a storm makes landfall.


What does he eat?

Lasagna, overcooked at the edges.
Lotus when he’s lonely. Blackbirds,

between the crusts. Hardtack.
Perhaps the eyeballs of his enemies.


So you are afraid of him?

What kind of father
lets his child go up on wings

of wax (and over
the open water)? What father

leaves you for a knife?
Chooses his god instead? Binds

you up on the mountain,
or at the fire station, or between

the legs of the Texaco star?


Are you sure that really happened?

No. Those are the stories I’ve heard.


So why did you choose him?

There’s not logic in all things.
Sometimes a boy just attaches

like a climbing vine, each leaf angled
toward an unknown source.

Sometimes I blame him
for my own recklessness: another person

for this tore-up world,
pain on its pedal loop.

It’s easier to charge a stranger.


When I draw him, what shapes should I use?

First, mark the place land blurs to water:


Put him there, against a single sail:


Or does he think of himself as a navío:

Now his family speaks in two languages.
One is the father tongue.


Well, do you at least know how old he is?

On the line, his answers rise,
younger than my own.

But perhaps he, like you,
has been on hold a long time,

fin pressed into a fragile shale.


Tell me how I will recognize him.

In the photo, he is missing
his two front teeth.

A cadmium sea
folds the light behind him.

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers is the author of two poetry collections: Chord Box (University of Arkansas Press, 2013) and The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons (Acre Books, 2020). Her poems appear in the Boston Review, the Missouri Review, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Memorious, and elsewhere. Her essays appear in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017, The Best American Travel Writing 2017, the Missouri Review, and other journals. A former Kenyon Review Fellow, she lives in Washington, D.C.