Fatherly Reflections (Karl Kirchwey) for solo voice and piano; commissioned by Lyric Fest of Philadelphia and first performed by Richard Troxell, tenor and Laura Ward, piano, First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, November 21, 2010.
The sky is an oval box of blues.
Light fades from a yellow-painted case
of Shaker drawers, the knobs’ dark wood
like night to organize day’s façade.
The wrist of birch in a bed of fern
is pale like yours on the counterpane1.
There are leaves of shale in the cut of the road;
their pages crumble while I read
and the pasture listens, bedstraw with
its axil full of spittlebug3 froth.
The self-heal, purple on its square stem,
flares in an acre, a golden frame
bought from the world at dusk. A veery5
in parallel thirds throws its song away,
and the dandelion’s gray head is blown to seed
in the lower pasture where you were made.
- counterpane: a bedspread
- axil: the upper angle between a leaf stalk or branch and the stem or trunk from which it is growing
- spittlebug: a jumping, plant-sucking insect (also called froghopper), whose larva produces a frothy mass on plants
- self-heal: a purple-flowered plant of the mint family traditionally used as an herbal medicine
- veery: a North American woodland thrush and songbird; this song incorporates an adaptation of the veery’s
Valley Forge, a last picnic at sunset.
We are the four corners of the known world.
Briefly we stretch and touch on an old blanket,
father, mother, child and younger child.
The empty fields will all go starveling now,
around that stone house and its whitewashed wall.
A smell of summer dust prevails, but also
something later, drier, more corruptible,
that goads us, mute with our dilated vision,
to find a way across the crumbling dark.
And though, because it will be closing soon,
rows of headlights stream out of the park,
the only things with light still left in them
are tufts of milkweed in their blackened pods,
each twisted, burst, split open on its stem
around a sky-soaked filament, a luminous floss.
poems copyright Karl Kirchwey