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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 30, 2018.
About this Poem 

“If you ask me about fatherhood, I will list aloud its wonders. And will add that my son draws circles wherever he finds space, that he waves goodbyes to bumblebees, shouts Hello! at airplanes and the moon and the East River ferry. I will sing for you his Why? with his many lilting syllables. There is a phrase from Mary Ruefle’s essay ‘On Fear’ that I have come to know by heart: ‘…the holy dread with which we face that which we love most, or that which loves us the most.’ This poem is unfinished. I will be writing it for as long as I live.”
—R. A. Villanueva

Annus Mirabilis

           For X.


From the shallows our son watches me play 
dead. He sits on river rocks chucking sand, 
burying strawberries while I float down-
stream, breath wound bright in the gut, a body

both here and of other waters. The day
he was born, midwives touched your face, your hands, 
tested nerve and pulse, dripped saline along
your thigh, numbered blades—their ceremony

for the first cuts, before swaddling blankets,
fever syrups, bath time and mud. These are 
places the boy is ticklish: lunette

of the earlobe        kneecaps       madrigal fat 
of his belly       collarbone       toes. These words
he knows, but will not say: yes       horse       sleep       white.


* 

Again the boy cries himself hoarse
as we sing through these hours right 

before dawn. First the alphabet,
then “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” 

then “The Great Pretender.” Our words
like foxes, like milk teeth. We can’t

hold him quiet. His body must,
they say, learn now about hunger,

about being alone. So we
hum and shhh into the yellow

bruise of Sunday, melodies the 
shape of bluets and yearlings, blood 

pudding and this worry, this awe 
we have no name for— 

*

When he asks, make no mention of those names 
we saved for the children we lost—his ghost 
siblings, their phantom initials. Of tests 

and lemongrass, nettle leaf and sharps, forms 
in triplicate, clinics painted with lambs, 
comets, maps to nerve meridians, hearts: 

say nothing. Never speak of that quiet
after the kicking stopped. Believe in time
he’ll learn our cells betray each miracle
and wild conundrum they’re coded to bear.

           If he needs an answer, give him morning 
mass off  W. 16th: how aisle and chancel 
roared with lilies and cornets; how we dared 
a new unknown to find us, there, in song.

Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Villanueva. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Villanueva. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

R. A. Villanueva

R. A. Villanueva

R. A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria (University of Nebraska Press, 2014).

by this poet

poem

At the columbarium dug
by hand, a man points to where rock
doves would be brought to nest, their eggs

tended by priests, and the cave locked
at sundown, guarded by hired
knives. The flock meant meat for the dry

times; saltpeter; yolks needed to bind
portraits to walls, to raise

2
poem

Not vinegar. Not acid. Not
sugarcane pressed to mortar by
fist, but salt: salt, the home taste; salt,
the tide; salt, the blood. Not Holy

Ghost, but a saint of coral come
to life in the night crossing a
field of brambles and thorns, the camps
of pirates beat back to the bay

2