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A Country Without You
                 
for my father
by Maureen Clark

I. then one day       you didn’t recognize me

anymore          and it set off an erasure     a whiteout

what kind of disease ends     with such meanness?

both our lives gone    in a sudden whiplash

 

that leaves me spinning solo               in an empty ballroom and

off balance             no one to bring solace

or hope                  it’s spring         planting time again

but dad        you’ve lost the ability           to see the seasons

 

to plant rows of corn                      patches of tomatoes

you don’t hear the music of soil and seeds          the wet glissando

of water in the ditch             all these touchstones

gone  no pumpkin seeds       no broom corn   golden

long after you’ve gone        we will pick apples

from the trees you planted         in the back acre

 

II.

we sat together in a boat               on the glassy surface

of the lake    and waited for whatever fish

might be lurking in the deep          slime

beneath the surface             of the watery frame

 

you and me       in the purple bruise of morning sunrise

baiting our hooks and             casting our lines

to catch         perhaps    rainbow trout         before the midday sun

pushed us to shore         with only sunburn to show for the hours

 

memory of an August     at Flaming Gorge             my skinny

form  jumping ashore               docking the boat

 

a little piece of me   connected to you   and the strand

of that one perfect day       those fired  fantastic      neurons born

 

like hallowed jewels           by boat and fish    caught in bright amazement

of childhood   and though you don’t remember it dad  the awe

III.

you bent my ear to stillness        to the deep melody

of the Milky Way      and campfires turning to ash

the spiral galaxies     the star clusters       almost more

than I could take in               the dark adagio

of constellations and planets overhead      and we were part

of it all          that dark harmony of space

the stars that made Ursa major    and Ursa minor      planets

and moons   the star dust that made us         and I was silent

 

in the presence      of that beautiful noise

and the hum of the voices           filling the meadow

our family     that I thought          would never

not be   just   like    this     around a dying campfire’s majesty

 

a spell so temporary         it would change before the next full moon     into ache

even the pines         were ephemeral      the loss of magic       acute

 

IV.

tomorrow is a country         without a string

to tether me to you                    but I refuse to believe

the lines are cut completely                  how could heaven sling

us out for good?      when I wave at you dad              you still wave back

 

and smile        that shy   boy smile   from the photo of you and Don

on the front steps of the old house      the two of you grinning

you are no more than three          ragged overalls              and Don

is holding you     by the shoulders           gently

 

without you                   I would never ascend the red rock cliff

at Lake Powell          put my toes and fingers in the sandstone

ladder           you talked down my fear     helped me climb

high above the water          into the Anasazi dwelling    to see

from their windows             the world           and you

and now       I can see        that there is also a country without you

Maureen Clark is retired from the University of Utah where she taught writing for 20 years. She was the director of the University Writing Center from 2010-2014. She was the president of Writers @ Work 1999-2001. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Alaska Review, The Southeast Review, and Gettysburg Review among others. Her first book This Insatiable August was released by Signature Books in February 2024.

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