By Javen Tanner
Consumed by silence, in a clean house,
myself as a child notices he is alive,
notices his own breath in everything he touches.
He experiences the present as a memory,
each object as a photograph: he sees his father’s clenched jaw
in the corner of the hearth, his mother’s song
in the curve of the vase. In his stillness there is no fear,
and so he says, “I love them. I love them.”
He is alone. There is no one else to hear.
I ask my daughter if she is happy. I want to know
if I’ve been negligent, if she is hiding some hurt
she cannot bear to share. “I am happy,” she says,
meaning “Why would you ask me such a question,
when we together have sat quietly watching the
snowfall, and both sanctified for it?” She pauses,
and I do not answer. “When I leave you, father, I will send
you comfort, you will remember everything,
and begin to understand the way I hurt.”
After the baptism, I straighten my son’s tie. His face
blotches red, his eyes blur. “Are you okay?” I ask,
and he almost completes, “I just feel happy.”
We are alone in a small church dressing room.
I face him in silence. Even the sounds of family and friends
beyond the door hush into brushstrokes painting wings.
He looks at me, startled, as if to say, “I cannot speak,”
as if, too young to bear it, the burden
of comprehension is now fully his.