for Benjamin and Jonathan

My father stirring sugar in a glass of tea
and I at his bedside, asking
little questions that fit inside
the big ones I didn't dare ask.
He might have figured out he was dying.

I'm dying. Not to worry: not any time soon,               
I hope. But just so you know.

I keep asking myself,
Should I burn my journals?                                                       

Such a quiet man, my father.
As a child I learned to read                                                            
the blanks between the words.                                 
More blanks than words.

What was he taking with him                                              
into his death?                  
I sat there day after day translating                                      
his unquiet eyes.

What a narrow conduit                                                                 
between parent and child,                                                  
cramped as a mail slot.    
It's a wonder anything gets through.

My father woke from agitated sleep.                         
Cossacks pounding on the door.                                 
In the terrified silence of the hospital room,              
I heard him crying for his mother.

I saved a picture Jonathan made at six:                         
black hair bristling, the face bright green,                   
legs planted apart like stanchions,                            
the belly a fiery furnace.                            
“That's what you look like when you're angry.”

He was right about that fire.
I burned a lot of things in secret.

I wanted to save the two of you    
from the deadness that lived in our house.                 
Even smoke-blind, I could always see you.           
It was you who saved me.
Would it help you to know
the scope of my confusions?

Night after night, I recorded
the unabridged version of the day,
black ink on blue-lined paper,
then hid it away.                                       

The key to the safe is under the sugar bowl.   

-- first published (as “Aperture”) in Beloit Poetry Journal

listen Listen to Chana Bloch reading "Conduit"