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.