Poem

Two Poems

Kevin Prufer

Churches

In 1981
          in a hotel gift shop outside Phoenix, AZ,
a little girl stood by the postcard rack, turning it gently.
It creaked.
            She considered a picture of the desert, then
looked around for her mother,
                         who was elsewhere.
She gave the rack a firm push so it spun
gently on its axle,
                                 smiled, pushed it again,
and the postcard rack wobbled on spindly legs.
And soon she had it spinning
                                  so quickly the cards
made long blurry streaks in their rotation, gasps of blue
for sky,
          yellow for sand, and then faster,
the girl slapping at it with her hand,
                                  grinning at me,
and then a single postcard rose from the rack, spun in the air
and landed at my feet,
                     a picture of a yawning canyon,
and then another, handfuls of postcards
rising from the rack,
                            turning in the air
while the girl laughed
                     and her oblivious mother, at the other end
of the store, bought a map or a box of fudge,
and then the air was full of pictures,
                                           all of them shouting
Phoenix, Phoenix, Phoenix,
                   twirling and falling
until the empty postcard rack
groaned once more, tipped,
and crashed through the window.

+

There ought to be a word
                           that suggests
how we’re balanced at the very tip of history
and behind us
                      everything speeds irretrievably away.
“It’s called impermanence,”
                           the little girl said,
looking at the mess of postcards on the floor.
“It’s called transience,” she said,
                                            gently touching the broken window. 
“It’s called dying,” she said.
                            It was 1981
and the clerk ran from behind the counter
                                             and stood before us.         
The girl smiled sweetly.
The postcard rack glittered
                             in the sun and broken glass. 
He turned to me and my face grew hot,
I couldn’t help it. I was blushing.

+

In 2009, my father lay in a hospital bed
gesturing sweepingly with his hands.
                                  “What are you doing?”
I asked him. “I’m building a church,” he said.
“You’re making a church?” I said.
                                  “Can’t you see?” he said.
He seemed to be patting something
in the air, sculpting something—a roof?—that floated above him.
The hospital room was quiet and white.
“What kind of church is it?” “I’m not finished.”
“Is it a church you remember?”
                                                    “Goddamn it,” he said. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

+

It was 1988 and I stood in line for my diploma
and my father took a picture
                                that I’ve lost now.
1984 and there we are
                     around a campfire I cannot remember.
It was 2002
                 and his cells began to divide wrongly, first one
deep in the wrist bone, then another
                                  turned hot and strange,
deformed, humpbacked, and fissured,
                                              queer and off-kilter,
one after the other,
                          though no one would know it for years.

+

“It’s called dying,” the girl said,
                        while the postcards suspended
in the air like a thousand days.
                                   I reached out to touch one,
then another,
                 and all at once they fell to the floor.
Then the clerk said
                          I was paying for the window,
where were my parents,
                       and who was going to pay
if I didn’t know where my parents were?
                                        And the girl
smiled from behind the key chains
                                  and her mother
pursed her lips at the far end of the store.
                                          The window
had a hole in it through which a dry breeze came.
The postcards shifted on the floor.

+

Years later,
                  my father was still making a church
with his hands.
                      “They do that,” the nurse said,
patting his head like he was a little boy.
                                       He was concentrating
on his church, though,
                      his hands shaping first what I took to be
the apse, then fluttering gently down the transepts.
He sighed heavily, frustrated,
                                          began again. 
“Can I bring you anything else?”
                            “No,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Are you sure?” She watched him tile the roof, watched his finger
shape another arch.
                           And then it was much later. 
                                                                               He’d fallen asleep.
Outside, snow covered up the cars.

+

“It’s called forgetting,” the girl said,
                              while the clerk
watched me and I blushed. “Until there’s nothing left.”
And a breeze entered
                              through the hole in the window.
“And then you’re out of time,” she said,
                             and shrugged.
Some of the cards were face up on the floor:
                                     two burros
climbing a craggy slope,
                        the Grand Canyon like a mouth
carved in the earth, a night-lit tower like a needle. 
                                    I was sweating now,
but I couldn’t speak.
                            And then I was running from the shop,
past the fountain and the check-in desk,
down the tiled hall to the pool,
where my father lay on a plastic beach chair,
                                        reading a book about churches.
Sunlight flecked his chest.
                           His hair was wet from swimming.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked.

+

First
         his cells were thick and soupy,
clotted and aghast.   
                          And then they were spinning
through the air.
                        And it was 1986 and rain
drummed on the roof. 
                      Or it was snowing, years later,
in Cleveland,
                    his hands working the air
while the nurse stood in the doorway and sighed.  
                                   Wind and sun,
a bright day, a lovely day
                         to lie by the hotel pool and read
about how men spent lifetimes building them
and never saw them finished.

To read the rest of this piece, purchase the issue.