in a hotel gift shop outside Phoenix, AZ,
a little girl stood by the postcard rack, turning it gently.
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
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
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,
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.
had a hole in it through which a dry breeze came.
The postcards shifted on the floor.
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,
“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,
Some of the cards were face up on the floor:
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.
To read the rest of this piece, purchase the issue.
David Gates, Alcorian A-1949
Cathy Park Hong, From 'Fort Ballads'
Iman Mersal, A Celebration
D. Nurkse, Empire of Days
Frederick Seidel, Arabia