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LISTENING TO THE CANDLE

III.viii

For Cassie

Rush home for dinner between a poetry reading and a public lecture on peace

and since Maylie is once again absent on one of her five-day sesshins sittings

I expect the kitchen to be deserted but no! Cassie fresh from her twenty-fifth birthday party

is there and sees right off a moment to pamper fixes some food while I relax

even though it may be we shall always be awkward there being more forethought

to the strangest arranged marriage than when father and daughter first look on each other

nothing those first years of whirlwind diplomat parties or canoe trips in the Laurentians

prepared us newlyweds for (the French pregnancy movie had counseled an energetic life)

a morning hike up a waterfall in the middle of the night a silent tight-lipped drive

and then suddenly Cassie five weeks premature no more than a 4.5 pound

baby koala in the palm of the nurse's hand How many shocks in life

can there be like that one? never before had I felt responsibility for such pain

as your misery and rage emerging from the ether of surgery at six weeks

the months of colic you could only be pacified by long drives on country washboard

or the nurserybook moment behind the hill just this side of the Iron Curtain

geese crossing the cobblestones a screech of brakes and you still smaller than your bear

ended up at the bottom of a pile of cribclothes on the Peugeot backseat floor

pains I would like to blame for your subsequent anger and not those later years

of crisis meetings books that always brought me home at dinner time too late

to pass through the small door of your wonderland to be a good father

I tried hard to live a life without scandal in the end that too failed

along with that future I wasted your childhood on but tonight you make no issue of it

tonight some instinct remembers the long vigil in Warsaw the Vistula frozen and so

no water heat electricity by candlelight we clutched you through your hot terrifying fever

to the dull booms as they dynamited the ice or when our Peugeot skidded

in the Silesian snowstorm stopped only by the kilometer stone its back wheels hanging in space

Maylie's sure hand scooping you without hesitation instantly out of the back seat

the same involuntary way Maylie's flesh became your milk her hair straightened

and across her sweet breathing hara belly there appeared stretchmarks Once you had been born

we could no longer as before want only for ourselves just as now we must unlearn

that intense involvement which served to make us more sane than our earlier freedom

nothing like that unique response to my first glimpse of your half-alien redness

of being despite illusions of identity and choice no more than the outer flesh

of some buried seed whose great singlemindedness had for a brief generation

used us and our desire as it might yours and if this has not

informed me with the skill to put easily into words I love you

nevertheless I feel the gift of this added force the more gratifying

because unneedy breath delicate as the sparrow's cough subtle as the earthworm trail

call me cassie or cassie's dream but hold me close the style of language is indirect

sign for a sign sound for another sound