Love Poem to the Son My Father Wished For

Jayme Ringleb

If I pause some nights when the sky seems
particularly simple, the air barely carrying
wafts of the neighbor’s constant bonfires,
the stars rubbed clean of their dull texture, if I
pause to name the stars, as if by naming them
I could love them more, I feel closer to you—
even if it’s too easy to love the stars, the way
telling me what you’ve done to roughen your hands
would be easy, or how you taught your daughters
to drag after you a workshop trolley
in the garage, naming all the pretty car parts—
caliper, strut dust, chassis. I don’t know
what there is between a woman and a man,
but you know how to make the body submissive
and brave: when your father’s God asks you
to heat something small and metal—a ball bearing, maybe
a fishhook or drywall nail—over a fire,
to keep it in the fire until it glows, and to then
swallow it, you do. I love your mouth for this,
its coarsenesses, scabbed edges, numb
little scars—your father’s God has demanded
so much of you, and now the burn-pocked tongue
tastes nothing, would taste nothing
even if the mouth bent down to kiss me, if only
to feel for a moment whether kisses could injure
better than gods. I have opened my mouth
to God, but only men enter. I imagine them
in their homes, milling, busying themselves
with cookware, working to assemble new,
oily-grated grills, standing worthlessly
in the drive, as I imagine you do some nights,
having of course bedded a wife, having set out
a glass of water and left a robe she loves
folded over the wardrobe door, finally
slipping out, in our grandfather’s mackinaw coat,
for a secret smoke, thinking sometimes of me
when you take in the simple sky
whose stars you name as if they were children.

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