In the last photograph taken
of my father, his mouth was
open to speak, and his eyes,
like glass to me, are weak
and without focus. Or else
the grainy film, malignant cells working,
hid him behind a gray gauze screen.
It is fall, and the sun, lowered
on a string, is small and halting
past the walnut. The tomato stakes
are idle. I see the scraps
of slipcover my mother
tore apart to tie the plants;
above the brown and tannic oak leaves
they are the only green
in this picture I'm holding.
In my household's parable,
a man got up on a death-
gray mule, and kicked it on
through the twists of road, and
came to a dark hammered edge of woods;
too little land behind him to
prepare him for this. But three years
waited to lean over and whisper,
to salute his mule and ride on.
Now his image is frozen
in a picture I keep, his face
his body's only outcry
above the green cotton rags; my father
looking perfectly forward.