Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us
by Mary Jo Balistreri

In a land where stone takes one breath
every thousand years, I watch my father sleep.
Rivers of his body rise and fall,
skin map-thin at 93, arteries bottle-necked, narrowed.
Heat sears day, dims distant sand dunes to mirage.

His eyelids twitch, a leg muscle contracts.
He awakens with a start—perhaps currents
strange and powerful burrow
through his memory’s alchemy and pass
between us, this landscape that throbs
with ancient rhythms and ancestral pulses.

Half asleep, he shuffles to the door, brushes my arm
aside and steps into the sun. He whistles and waits.
A quail in elaborate topknot and desert fatigues
struts from under the orange tree.

The bird calls back but stops, sociable only at a distance.
Dad knows not to move. In a few minutes,
she takes her nine offspring
in the opposite direction, legs spinning
like pinwheels. He watches until they’re gone,
the way he used to watch me.
Later, he strolls among other affections—oleander,
bougainvillea.  His fingers brush the vine of flowers,
and I remember his gentle touch as he lingers
by blooms of deepest pink.

            We rode on the Aerial Bridge. He held me tight
            against his chest, patted my back, soothed my cries.
            It will be okay he said over and over as we rose
            higher and higher.

Memory jolts like an alarm as he leans toward
the cacti, the spiny seeds of bursage.
He lifts his head to the sun, my panic spiraling.
Like the fresh smell of creosote after a rain,
love’s brief moment stuns.
I take his hand as we walk toward the house,
inhale the fragrance of Here. Now.
Breath that takes me forward, breath
that will take him home.  

~ first published in Mobius