I arrive at the wrong hour
with another teacher in the room—
so much this time of the semester.
Too many papers, too many
students. At the right hour I face
the board, write the date: first
day of spring, another blustery March.
In mid-air my hand pauses,
my back to the class,
and in the second it must have taken
to blow up my father’s body
forty-seven years ago, my breath
recognizes what the mind forgets.
A tourist destination now,
ice-cream parlors in Hanoi. Then:
rations in a can, his children waiting
in Illinois where no one speaks
of war. A knock on the door
with official papers, a Purple Heart.
While students find their seats
I remember the cuckoo clock
ticking on the wall, my six-year-old brother
sitting in my mother’s lap. Now:
Open your books. Be sure
To take notes.
My father gets out of his black Mercury,
so shiny I can see my reflection even now,
everything but his love filled with eloquence
and skill, Hermes returned. Blue tattoos
on his forearms stay buried beneath
his blond hair, his shirt sleeves
rolled up. One day in a jungle it will be
these ink images that identify his body. But
for now, the engine runs and my mother,
barely nineteen, climbs out the other side.
They stand under a brilliant sky
as if waiting for their unsettled future,
It’s warm. Always
warm with some war starting up, more
children to raise. To the right, a big field
with possibilities they don’t see, a fence
they can’t climb, rows of farmer’s seeds
ready to burst open. The sound
of an erratic train runs parallel
as I wave my magic wand
like a caduceus with its entwined snakes
over these now departed souls—me, the conductor
of the dead. Meanwhile, Mercury continues
its orbit near Venus, so close to the fire,
and I head into the future with my own
wayfaring winged shoes, my own
olive branches, my own heralding voice.