- Infant Father
You entered screaming, anointedwith blood and vernix—our tempestuous goddess,weighed, cleaned, rubbed, recordedby your priestess-nurses.When I held you in my hands,I was the small one.
Still unfocused,your pupils widen, glistenbeneath a nestof Christmas lights I wovearound a lampshade abovethe couch where we liein kindred amazement:the lights you watchthe lights I watch you by.
Four months old, and this last hourspent crying, crying hard.Tears pool in a fold of your earlike prayers that go unheard.
No sign of fever; you aren't cold.No hunger to blame it on.You're nursed, bathed, swaddled. What else? Original sin? [End Page 385]
You're too young for ironies,small Sophia in my hands—who cries while I apologizefor what neither understands.
A father learns a certain wayto close a door. I gripthe knob as I would holda living thingand turn it slowlyso that no errant clickof spindle, latch, or strikeplatecauses you to wake,while my other handpalms the door to givea guiding resistance:striking that balance.
You don't yet know we call them roses,and it will be years before you understandwhat I mean when I say that they've come backfrom last year. No matter now: this morningwhen I carry you toward them—pink globes of sunlight in a breeze—you smile, shriek, straighten your knees and lift,in a kick, almost a leap, as if to springinto flight. And I recall the phrase, the babe leaped in the womb, but can't, [End Page 386] for a minute, remember where it's from;and in that minute you, so recentin the womb, and now in weather, seeing roses, leap again and again.
Had your mother not stirredin bed and woken me,I'd not have heard,through the window, blackbirdson the tin gray roofsand chimney pots of Paris,singing at dawn.
And in the journalI kept from that trip,I find this: The offstage voice in opera or play, heard from the wings, is token of all that is at once present and absent.
Coming and going—we didn't know, that morning,you were alreadybeating inside her.Nor that I'd be hearingblackbirds again, hearingher sing to you, from another room. [End Page 387]
Midwife crouched and urging,nurse and nurse, each supportinglegs of your mother: four womendoing the pure work of labor.I attended with words that matteredas little as noise from the hallwayto those four women. And then you.
When I held you, I kissed your browand said the words I had rehearsedfor you, too new to know them—mere ceremonyfrom the first man you'd meet.
Now as you ply your waytoward language, still far off,we amuse ourselves, making sounds.But I remember wordsonce spoken—and how, my dear,we both must learn the chargewith words is making sounds cohere with what abides in time. [End Page 388]
William Wenthe has a new book of poetry, "Words before Dawn," scheduled next year from the LSU Press.