Old enough to know her father’s need
for sleep, she would not wake him with her cry.
Through quartered window glass the cold
rides on the moonlight flooding her room,
casting a shadow cross on the bare wall.
She would not cry although the light seems cruel
as winter, cutting through the quilts and sheet,
tightens its grip on her legs. The pain there
thrives on, though raised in the dull heat
of summer when fever with a brutal hand
yanked the legs from under her, folding them
back to kneel as if she must pray forever.
But something stirs her father. And he turns
in his own pain, wakeful, knowing her awake,
leaves his bed and climbs the narrow stair;
rising toward the moon in the window beside her,
he sees her speechless eyes and smooths her hair.
He pulls a chair up to the glass that shines
in its beveled skin of ice. A single fingernail
rough work has left intact, becomes his tool
scratching on one quarter of the pane: a flower.
His daughter smiles to see it bloom in silver
on the moonlit wall, the first of a full garden
where two lovers are walking hand in hand.
It has been years since he has known
this freedom of making, since necessity
bartered plane and chisel for his pen.
He moves on to the second pane, a woman rocking
a child, its curled hand reaching for her lips,
her hair bound in a low hive but for a strand.
His daughter’s eyes are moonwide now, yet calm,
eager for the next image. His cold hand
etches on the third pane a fine rose window
and altar rail where a young woman is kneeling,
her dress and petticoats ruffled like a peony,
under the priest’s blessing, her first communion.
Smiling, she nods. One pane is frosted blind.
He cannot think to move his hand, it moves
as her eyes close, rescued from this vision:
he draws a hill and road that winds behind
where men and women vanish two by two,
climbing in slow procession, following, what?
The sudden heat of breath and hands has made
a rainstorm on the landscape—his work is done.
He kisses her asleep. On the stray fringe
of frozen light from the golden mural he gropes
his way downstairs, thanking the full moon,
knowing the sun will never be so kind.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 3, on page 44
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