We were sixteen when they evacuated the gymnasium
in the middle of the English exam (anonymous bomb
threat, year after Columbine). I was writing on Roethke –
not the poem we’d read in class and most everyone agreed
told the story of an abusive father and forgiving son,
but one about a root cellar in Saginaw, moist and stinking.
Leaf-mold, manure, lime: I balanced on speed-bumps,
covered my ears from the St. Clair cold, floating answers.
When I was fourteen I won the school geography bee
with an answer I had already known but still over-saw.
Back inside, I conflated synecdoche, metonymy –
Nothing would sleep inside that cellar, dank as a ditch.
This is what I think of on the pavement behind the library,
crying a list of your father’s faults, taking the streetlamps
for the grounded constellations of pots, pans and riders.
You read their dance as one of love, and so too your own –
and as you move to hold me up, mute, only the dirt keeps
breathing a small breath, the promise of forgiveness.