“Oblivio Gate”

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 3:06 pm
The photographer with his 98-year-old father, who lost his short-term memory. As an act of remembering, the son documented his final time with him in "Days with My Father."

“Oblivio Gate”

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth:
     I sought him, but I found him not.
     —Song of Solomon 3:1


If we are truly the sum
          of our memories,
		               tonight you are not

my husband
          but a young soldier in Korea,

across a mud trench in snow.
          You warn me
		               about the unpredictable

motions of saw grass,
          about tripwires and crickets
                 that seem to answer each other

across a field, 
          about the wind, how
        		       it will always bend a reed

the way a catfish curls
          a can pole.
		               You warn me
about the full moon
          hung out
                 like a flare
          beneath a night-cloud's
                 silver canopy,
about shadows,
          about the way
                 one branch moving
without the others
          means trouble—
                 it almost always means trouble.


          I'll find you
		               sitting upright in bed

bereft as a boy
          who has lost himself
		               among the fire-eaters

and drunken barkers
          of the Midway.

I'll find you twitching
          like a hound in sleep,
                 and I pray

you are somewhere,
          howling in the furious
        		       fanglight of a moon.

Once, as I woke,
          you were simply standing
		               naked beside the bed:
a shameless body
          that glowed.
                 Your eyes were fixed
to a bare corner of room,
          your head cocked,
                 tracking the low gnaw
of wood grubs
                 in the weight-bearing walls.


Movement like this
          becomes a strange calligraphy,
		               subtle as the familiar

alphabet of branch shadow
          swept from ceiling to wall
		               and back to ceiling.

The grayscale
          of a fine ink opening
		               beneath a horsehair brush,

the Korean character
          left drying
                 on the page.

Its message
          becomes your insomnia,
                 your paper madness.


The moon
          is the rice-paper lantern
		               left burning in the garden

Long after the last house light
          is put down.
		               Wind sweeps its circles

across the empty lawn
          and back again.
		               All night

I search you
          for signs of recognition—
                 Solomon? Solomon?

I float your name 
          out into the darkness:
        		       a word, a flame,

A silver prayer kite rising,
          rice paper,
twine for the rigging,
          remember this.


You are startled and swear,
          the goddamn house
                 is lousy with bugs!

                 the carpenter bee,

the suckers* just burrow and breed.
          Yet somehow 
                 you knew

about the slow 
          tangles and plaques,
                 about the snarled web

that blossoms
          beneath the crown molding,
                 about the Louisiana weevils

gorging the sweet potato's
          orange meat.
                 You knew

about the perforated baseboards,
          about the bees
                 that bore

like iridescent drill bits
          through porch,
                 about the pelt

of black mold
          alive as a wall rat
                 between jack studs.

You knew
          about the dry rot
                 in the eaves

and about the palsied signature
          of a worm
                 etched across the rotted sill.

You could hear
          the steady gnash
                 of mandibles

buried in walls
          like grunts in laced boots
                 marching through a frozen field,

like the quick
          electric spill
                 of a stroke,

like wood dust,
          and the strange sleep
                 that sifts down through stars

steady as snow
          forgetting every path
                 we've ever walked.


You smiled and said,
          there are so many dreams
                 it's hard to pick the right ones,

and I knew you were back,
          for now,
                 in the infested body

of this house.
          You cupped my face
                 and kissed me

there in our bed
          like a husband, like a man
                 on his knees

          after a thaw
                 of river water,

the mouth
          unable to swallow anything
                 fast enough.


The mind
          will sometimes turn
		               on itself,

the way a stomach will
          devour its own walls
		               in hunger.

          you become
		               an exposed colony

of termites, writhing
          in the split log of sleep,
                 and memory

is nothing more
          than a star-pocked darkness
        		       that sidles up

like a wife with a toothy smile
          who daubs a damp cloth
		               at your forehead,
who calls to you
          down half-lit corridors
                 and guides you back

to the familiar wicker chair,
          the lampshade,
                 the pillow.

The Korean landscape
          you hung above our bed
                 is electric with moonlight

and fever, and somewhere
          in the pasture
                 just beyond reason, a line

of stout poplars
          drills holes
                 through heavy snow:

a battalion of foot soldiers
          assembles in the tree line,
                 bellies through nightwheat and frost.

* Changed from the original poem due to sensitive language.

(© 2008 by Sean Nevin. Reprinted from Oblivio Gate with permission from Southern Illinois University Press.)

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Sean Nevin

is the author of A House That Falls (2005), winner of the Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition, and Oblivio Gate (2008), awarded the Crab Orchard Award Series First Book Prize.

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