My Father’s Face

Over his fastidious hands

his voice breaks,

and because he had executed

the bequest

(typing the book lists

sermons in manuscript

& unlisted artifacts)

on his son’s birthday

in the Brooklyn brownstone,

this is a double loss,

unbeknownst, even to him,

at this late date

in the March snow,

how much the past costs;

how much the health

of one’s nation

as neighborhood,

is stored in the family,

the archives,

the handwriting

of our saints & sinners,

and the forgiveness

of sin’s remembering.

(As for the saints)

For now the ancient folders

are enough for the sorrow,

which is grief over my mother’s

life, and the grand thematics

of a little girl,

polishing her jacks

on her grandfather’s marble

steps, too close, even for him,

to the Germantown governors

who account for the meal

and his till.

We are here on the edge

of another parade,

a huge mural

as a gate,

east and west,

in honor of Nat Cole’s walk,

as if his majesty

on the keyboard,

the lilt of his Montgomery


was a memorial to running water,

to stone, and the masonry

of singing on the stone,

which was his pledge,

which was his right.

This is the penmanship

of song; we are journalists

for the race this Saturday,

in honor of Saturday’s child,

a sacred seat with the father.

A poem by Michael S. Harper

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