~ ONE ART’s Top 10 Most-Read Poets of July 2023 ~
Everyone Has Better Parents
I drive with you beside me after you’ve bombed a math test.
You’re still and cold, like city statues after dark under street lamps,
the way public art at night shapes itself into familiar monsters.
You still want to go to college but maybe not engineering, you say,
feeling carefully for safe ground between us.
At the stoplight on Black Rock, birds pass over our car
and are gone forever.
The car engine hums, listening.
I’m taking you to a therapist. You asked Mom for someone new,
someone who is not a family friend so you can tell the truth
about us: the current of my fury that crackles
through our walls,
your mother’s shackling invasion of privacy,
her way of transmuting all experiences into life lessons
like the perpetual ringing of a hammer.
At two years old your eyes were blue as berries, your hair
platinum and fine at the temples, like a halo.
What if that was the time to impart wisdom,
Before you darkened into this baffling stranger?
What if it’s now–this moment
before the traffic light blinks green?
As we drive past the bank, sunset blazes in its windows–
your face lit like red gold–and it’s like a door opening
to welcome us: some other father, some other son.
Originally from the Midwest, Robert Darken now resides in Connecticut, where he teaches high-school English. His poems have appeared in The Orchards, Red Eft Review, and New Verse News.
My eye follows the white thread, finds the flash
of silver jet needling into the future, destinations blooming
in the imagination: glass towers, a city, the smell
of a rented car, the way road meets sky atop a hill,
the cows standing together facing into rain.
Before, say eighty years ago when my mother was born,
there were no such trails in the sky; autumn geese
veed south, leaving behind a trackless blue.
Now lines divide one tract of heaven from another,
reminding me of the surveyor in the orange vest
who unearthed stakes at the boundaries of our yard,
marked them with bright pink ribbons.
Overhead the trail blurs like cotton, like sutures
dissolving in time and air leaving no scar but memory,
the boundaries between memories dissolving like water,
and I wonder if this is the way it happens with my mother,
writing and rewriting my phone number on a napkin,
the pathways in her memory washing away,
eroding in time, gentle as rain.
Once when I was sixteen and confident, I took
the wheel of her Mercury Topaz, drove us home
in a blizzard along a dark county road in Wisconsin,
my mother silent in the passenger seat, her eyeglasses
gleaming owlishly, snow crunching under tires,
road disappeared, nothing but snow and loss,
nothing but the memory of a road, the road
present and not present, my mother beside me,
the memory rock solid, memory to build a life on,
memory flickering like snow before the headlights.
The Time We Have
Childhood mornings I rose in the dark,
sat blinking awake in the living room’s quiet
as the clock turned 5:55.
My father shaved behind the bathroom door,
a transistor radio vibrating thinly of news and traffic.
In the kitchen he stirred coffee.
The teaspoon rang the bell of his cup, and I sat
in his lap as he opened and refolded the Tribune
with big papery sweeps.
There was nothing but time: tableaux of bicycles
tipped in the grass, one yellow reflector spinning like
a googly eye. Church prayers spoke of eternity
as a thing to be desired, prayers offered haltingly
by men, made genuine by stretches of silence,
as I shifted knees on tile floor.
And what did eternity mean to my widowed grandmother,
who stood at the kitchen sink each morning
scraping black from her toast like minutes?
This morning my daughter smiles, her mouth
clown-stained with juice. The moment leans
into eternity, slanting like a late summer shadow.
Robert Darken earned a B.A. from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in Education from the University of Michigan. Originally from the Midwest, he now resides in Connecticut, where he teaches English at New Canaan High School.