Issue 17 | Summer 2015

Letters to Baltimore

Our father, who aren’t in Baltimore
anymore or anywhere
so far as I can tell
                               no sight
of you no sound
                               not in the grass
and scarred red clay, not in the woods
where trees fall to another’s hand
or stand self-shadowed, not in garden
given back to morning glory
                    wild wind-dropped seeds

Consider this ramshackle space—
the poorly-papered walls, floor cold
under my intermittent light—
as neutral ground, a place to wait,
both anteroom and epilogue
to the longer passage I would know—
however partially, with all
my necessary wanderings
from fact, failures of empathy
or imagination—as your life.

Maybe past midnight now and then
caught in my mirror as I piss
a trace peripheral
between the eyes, a nostril flared,
bone shape of cheek, jaw stubble-shaded,
something at play beneath my skin
rough semblance lingering of you
but gone before I give it a name.

A boarding house in Baltimore,
an iron-framed single bed, a chair,
a bathroom down the hall,
and you in 1949,
no one I’d recognize, except,
perhaps, in black and white, your long,
thin face too young, the slicked back hair
too dark, too thick, your widow’s peak
only a hint of what I know
it will become on you, on me.

If silence is imaginary
who imagines yours
the hope that you might hear or hearing
care or caring answer back
in any form I’d recognize
above the thunder of your absence—

Let it be evening here, last light
in ragged scraps above shipyard
and factory second shifts, the bars
and SROs rank with desire
from men with fading farmer’s tans,
lost looks, and no one close to hold.
Soon night will spill across the city,
flood alleyways and vacant lots,
pool just beyond the yellow arcs
of streetlamps. Soon you’ll go again.

The leaf-roar of a falling oak,
tinnitus shared father and son,
bell tolling in the smallest bones,
familiar uptick at the end
of laughter
                   shadow underneath
a summer canopy of leaves,
a semaphore of stone unmoving

Nothing waits for you now, no time,
no place where you aren’t dead, memory
itself black-bordered, fading as all
who caught an echo of your voice
slip closer to the random blur,
static that drowns out every sound
in its accepting emptiness.
But let me keep you for a moment,
here where everything is still
to come. At last, I’m listening.


Bob Watts is an Assistant Professor in English/Creative Writing at Lehigh University.  His first collection, Past Providence (David Robert Books, February 2005), won the 2004 Stanzas Prize from David Robert Books, and his poems have been published in Poetry, The Paris Review, and reDivider, among other journals.


Filed under: Poetry