From another room my mother said
“I don’t know what gets into him.”
My father’s short responsive shrug
Had become so common that I thought
I heard his shoulders rise and fall.
Her questioning drew nothing but
My vague confession to a plan
To drive around, not sure just where,
A hollow answer that gave her
An empty box that she could fill
With further hopeless inquiries.
A teenager’s evasions are
As heavy as a toddler’s drop
To dead weight in your grasping arms.
We learn it soon, it serves us well,
This awesome and relentless power:
Some nights I filled her darkest fears,
Spent endless hours with the girl
Whose father drank to passing out
Whose mother flirted shamelessly
As we sipped bourbon on a couch
That stank of sweat and ancient smoke.
I heard the door of innocence
Close quietly behind my back.
But other nights held mysteries
Beyond those of that living room,
The nights on which I steered my car
Past the old church set on the lake,
To the stone grotto tucked below,
Surrounded by the willow trees,
And thick with honeysuckle’s scent,
A gleam of water trickling down,
The votive candles’ dancing light,
The arm-stretched Virgin looking on,
The flowers at her painted feet.
I sat upon the rigid bench
Replaying something like a prayer
Conveyed in voices born and bred
Inside the labyrinths in my head.
I met God there you’d say, if you
Say ghostly things like that out loud.
Or God met me.
And then He followed me, this God,
This phantom uninvited guest,
Followed until I heard His voice,
Even in that forbidden room,
Her father calling, moaning, spent
While we winced at the whisky’s burn.
And, as I searched out other rooms,
He spoke there, too.
He spoke too in my coming home,
My father sleeping in his chair,
The memories he wore like scars
At rest in his unconsciousness.
My mother still awake in her
For there she was.
There she was.
Worried and wondering,
What on God’s green earth
Had gotten into me.