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Mort with Daughters
Valerie, Mort, and Jana

My Daughters Grown


I have returned numberless times
to that room where my daughters slept
when they were seven and two
and I heard the slender wings
of their breathing climb
and hover above their heads,
a slow flexing in that house
they haven’t lived in for twenty years.

It is a father’s journey undertaken
again and again to watch over and protect
in the night, while the wind
roars outside and the stars’
blue fires burn like sapphires
around that house of memory.


Grown now, both live lost and alone
in the small high rooms of tall buildings
in separate cities far away, and each night
I lumber toward those cities
but get no farther than that room
they slept in so long ago. Exhausted,
I loosen the straps of my knapsack
and set it down like another body
at their bedsides, watching them
as they were when I wished
what a father does for his daughters,
a jumble of longings I could never
put into words and knew even then
were impossible.

                   So is it any wonder
that I cannot tell them by phone
what I wish for them, or at least
say something that will ease
the hurt and confusion in their words,
as sirens and horns and random shouts
enter the windows behind them
and wrestle with their voices over the wire?


My wife,
who has similar problems with her father,
says I always imagine my daughters
as little girls asleep in that ancient room,
and only when I portray them as women
will we be able to converse in a manner
that will satisfy us all. She’s right,
I’m sure, but she’s not a father.

Last night I visited that room again,
but it rolled and pitched, the house
no longer a house but a ship plunging
through the night, transporting
a cargo of children all in my care
to an unknown destination. I stood
on the deck, knowing there was
no wheelhouse behind me and no rudder,
and all I could do was pray for them all,
while, like a celestial liner,
the ship slid through the night,
its hull scraped and scared
by the hot sapphire of the stars.

from Shouting Down the Silence

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