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.

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