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The Torchbearer

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If you ask, my father will tell you

             the story of building his first

crystal radio: night after night


after lights-out, a sheet draped

             like a mosquito net across his bed,

shadow creatures cast


across the slapdash walls of his tent

             as he worked: first, a pair of hands

flapping before candlelight,


then a V of snow geese towing

             the floral print northward,

finally, a school of fish


frantic within a paper lantern.

             If you ask, my father will tell you

when he finally finished constructing


that radio, he stumbled upon a voice

             who told the story of a traveler

and the world he discovered uninhabited


by light, its people blind as cave

             pool fishes. When he tells the story

of that night, he never fails to mention


that though he pinched himself awake,

             he fell asleep never having heard

the story’s end and became in his dream


the explorer landed on a planet

             cloaked in darkness. And in the darkness?

A rustling of creatures in the brush.


The call of a child in her sleep. A star

             overhead, eclipsed and dangerous cold.

Sometimes, before he thought


me old enough, I’d ask my father

             what made the solar system. He’d tell me

God gathered stones in a pickling jar


and thrust it to the cold nucleus

             of the elements, our great obsidian

peppered with dust. Sometimes,


when I close my eyes, I can almost see him

             in search through the night for that voice,

fingers delicately maneuvering the tuner’s knob,


the crystal’s black longitude

             sliding east to west its brief radio range.

But all he ever finds is static


and the morning with no sleep.

             All his adult life he’s waited

for the turn of the page that will send


him back to that sightless world,

             eyes torches, hands turned to flame,

the vestigial sockets of the desperate


glowering forth from the pitch,

             my father the first torchbearer


to surface in ages, my father the mystery

             between fire and flame.

-First published in Anti-. 13 (Fall 2013)

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