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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

Not My Father’s Arms

As I sat with him that October afternoon,
my friend, who was dying, revealed
his worst recollection. Not the
backwards premonition I expected of
war, fractures, the premature passing
of his only daughter, but an evening,
he told me, when he was four or five.

His mother gave permission for him
to meet his father, the nightly ritual of return
from work. He had run toward a
salmon-colored sunset, through scents
of suppers seasoned with lost countries.
He had run as only a small boy can run, all fists
and knees, as tall as what he knew of manhood.

Two figures approached, in conversation,
facing each other, backed by a sun, ashen now,
just past its glory. In the shift of light they
saw him, small blur of home, hurtling
toward them. One knelt, opening dark arms
wide enough for a child to enter
and press against cool wool.

He had dashed, his arms a matching gesture
of width and pleasure until, enfolded
against a broad chest, he smothered
in alarm. These were not his father’s arms.
The face bending down was bearded,
the hands calloused. His terror went beyond
nightmare, ache, the loss of any dear
possession, sobs lasting long after the other man,
his true parent, lifted him onto strong shoulders.

He never forgot. That accidental betrayal
haunted every sidewalk, persisted into
the risk of this place, this homecoming in which
his own body had become unfamiliar,
where every day he might wake
into an unknown love.

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