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March 3, 2007AWP Conference, AtlantaFrom the Academy Audio Archive
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Father Outside

Nick Flynn, 1960

A black river flows down the center
of each page

& on either side the banks
are wrapped in snow. My father is ink falling

in tiny blossoms, a bottle
wrapped in a paperbag. I want to believe
that if I get the story right

we will rise, newly formed,

that I will stand over him again
as he sleeps outside under the church halogen
only this time I will know

what to say. It is night &
it's snowing & starlings
fill the trees above us, so many it seems

the leaves sing. I can't see them
until they rise together at some hidden signal

& hold the shape of the tree for a moment
before scattering. I wait for his breath
to lift his blanket

so I know he's alive, letting the story settle

into the shape of this city. Three girls in the park
begin to sing something holy, a song
with a lost room inside it

as their prayerbook comes unglued

& scatters. I'll bend
each finger back, until the bottle

falls, until the bone snaps, save him

by destroying his hands. With the thaw
the river will rise & he will be forced
to higher ground. No one

will have to tell him. From my roof I can see
the East River, it looks blackened with oil

but it's only the light. Even now
my father is asleep somewhere. If I followed

the river north I could still reach him.

Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.

Copyright © Nick Flynn and Josh Neufeld. Poem and illustration first published in The Common Review, Fall 2004. Used with permission.

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn was born in 1960 in Scituate, Massachusetts. He is the author of the poetry collections The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf Press, 2011), Blind Huber (Graywolf Press, 2002), and Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000).

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When you see us swarm — rustle of

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