Infant Father


You entered screaming, anointed
with blood and vernix—
our tempestuous goddess,
weighed, cleaned, rubbed, recorded
by your priestess-nurses.
When I held you in my hands,
I was the small one.

Three a.m.

Still unfocused,
your pupils widen, glisten
beneath a nest
of Christmas lights I wove
around a lampshade above
the couch where we lie
in kindred amazement:
the lights you watch
the lights I watch you by.

The Fall

Four months old, and this last hour
spent crying, crying hard.
Tears pool in a fold of your ear
like 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?

You're too young for ironies,
small Sophia in my hands—
who cries while I apologize
for what neither understands.


A father learns a certain way
to close a door. I grip
the knob as I would hold
a living thing
and turn it slowly
so that no errant click
of spindle, latch, or strikeplate
causes you to wake,
while my other hand
palms the door to give
a guiding resistance:
striking that balance.


You don't yet know we call them
and it will be years before you understand
what I mean when I say that they've
come back
from last year. No matter now:
this morning
when 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 spring
into flight. And I recall the phrase,
the babe leaped in the womb,
but can't,
for a minute, remember where it's from;
and in that minute you,
so recent
in the womb, and now in weather,
seeing roses, leap
again and again.


Had your mother not stirred
in bed and woken me,
I'd not have heard,
through the window, blackbirds
on the tin gray roofs
and chimney pots of Paris,
singing at dawn.

And in the journal
I 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 already
beating inside her.
Nor that I'd be hearing
blackbirds again, hearing
her sing to you,
from another room.


Midwife crouched and urging,
nurse and nurse, each supporting
legs of your mother: four women
doing the pure work of labor.
I attended with words that mattered
as little as noise from the hallway
to those four women. And then you.

When I held you, I kissed your brow
and said the words I had rehearsed
for you, too new to know them—
mere ceremony
from the first man you'd meet.

Now as you ply your way
toward language, still far off,
we amuse ourselves, making sounds.
But I remember words
once spoken—and how, my dear,
we both must learn the charge
with words is making sounds cohere
with what abides in time.