Tom christopher


The Son Will Wear One Half of the Father’s Vision

While my father has never claimed that the world is a thousand assassins standing over a

thousand wells, he shares Plato’s dream of a golden horse. This is my kingdom, as I am

his son and therefore his heir. And understanding a son’s duty, I would wear wooden-

soled boots and dance across the kitchen table to please him. He would show his

happiness in small gestures, sometimes detaching his thumb or pulling coins from my

ears. (Later, like all sons, I learned a dance of silence.)

If fathers are defined by action, sons are defined by being acted upon. Others liken it to

ballroom dancing, including the squashed toes and the stumbling into other couples. And

I have on occasion thought of my relationship with my father as the Slow Waltz, the

Viennese Waltz, the Quickstep, the Cha Cha (an afternoon hammering holes in the wall),

the Samba, the Bolero, the Mambo, the Merengue, the Rumba, the American Tango, the

Argentine Tango (and his quiet sobbing when I helped him pull beef), the Jive, East Coast

and West Coast Swing, the Lindy; at times the Polka and the Two-Step, the Cajun Jig;

and even nameless dances: the silken jacket, the glass slung, the shivering pickup at the

edge of the road.


We tuck the babies into baskets. For a moment, all the world is a silly bride and we the

proudest of tourists. According to folk wisdom, that farmer is the potato yanked from the

soil, the powder that clings to his dungarees. Toiling days: a twenty-mile ride to the

nearest kiss. Nobody to snap his picture, nobody to hammer the plow into a new set of

teeth. We, too, have one life and live it terribly, hoping it is only a drill. Ribbons in hand,

we circle the apple tree. Later, we drink cider and watch the migration of the streets:

creeping to the doorsteps, sunning themselves like a lazy snake, never once whispering

our names.

My Home Swaddled in Clouded Origins

My mother describes a small Catholic church: incense, a priest trussed-up and shining,

rain rattling the green-copper roof. My father remembers a wedding chapel in Vegas, a

hasty marriage, but for the first time, life presenting itself as a bottle full of blinking

neon. And I’ve wondered if there wasn’t a mix-up at some hotel, two honeymoons

colliding (say in a glass elevator or the steamy churn of a hot tub) and leaving with

separate partners. Or perhaps they are expressing their wedding in the way Tennessee, a

field of black-eyed susans, or a car burning can be a response to What is love?

On occasion, I am given a vision. There is a barn in a lightless countryside. I cannot see

my parents directly, but recognize them with my whole body, the way one braces against

cold. The heavy smell of animals sits on the air. In this vision, I am a fully-grown man,

and straw layers the floor. My parents appear as a black ghost and a white ghost.

Somewhere there is a shrill fiddle and a guitar. Someone is chanting out dances. We (the

guests) are slapping our knees and scraping our chairs. We’re locking our elbows with the

ladies and gents. We’re slapping the knees to the left of us, the knees to the right.

In the End, Another Love Story

The city’s lights are either the glinting gearworks of horses or a shining scream into

eternity. Either way, the clouds are sick of being an edgeless glowing blanket. The truth:

we are each born a pilgrim and as pilgrims wear the world like a robe of braided hair.

Some swinging a thorny torch against the darkness, some tracking the shadow of the

unified theory. Heavy with this body/sky/song, I am counting my steps to know precisely

how close I have come or precisely how far I have wandered. To anger my enemies, I will

don the feathery mask, offering the last of my bread to the indescribable humming.

Slowly. Slowly, blink the lights. Slowly, I find an image of you.

Tom Christopher currently teaches at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, most recently in Alaska Quarterly, BATEAU, Caketrain, Cave Wall, Court Green, Gulf Coast, Harpur Palate, Indiana Review, James Dickey Review, Mid-American Review, Midway Journal, New Orleans Review, and Spinning Jenny, as well as the anthologies Best American Poetry 2006 and Cadence of Hooves.