LION AND GIN

I pet my father like some big cat a hunter has set on the ground,
though I am in Iowa now and not the Great Rift Valley
and what I sense as tent canvas flapping, thick with waterproofing,
is cheap cotton
choked with starch.
Still, he is a lion on the gurney.
I talk a little to make sure he’s dead.
I have some memory of riding his shoulders
through the fragrant night.  Three fish coiled in a creel.  So many
butterflies
and gnats, it was two-thirds Kenya,
one-third Illinois.
And then home:  the clink
of ice and gin.
And so I rub his hair, which is unwashed, and will
remain unwashed, for we will burn him.
I touch the blade of his chest.
Think of all those years I spent hovering beneath the scent of
Marlboros,
the mouth-wash trace of booze;  all that ice
cracking, going stale:  crowned molars and mimic glaciers
fading to bled-out amber among the cuticles of lime.
Maybe that’s why when he so blindly flies
on that exaltation of velocity and gas,
he doesn’t linger in this world awhile as word or song,
a density we might gather round —
an aquifer, or gushing spring, as pure as gin.
Instead, he departs
as vapor.
Fragments of tooth and bone in the swept-out mass I can
throw back to dirt, or spread — a child’s sugared, grainy drink —
to water.
And now I wonder, where’s the soul in this?
The agent of it?
If it un-tags, re-tags itself — a flexible, moveable,
graffiti — indelible for the time we have it,
or if it sputters on some inward cycle toward a Rubbermaid
waste bucket, sink trap ringed with cocktail residue.
As on my returning, the trays of ice were reduced to spit.
I had a drink in my hand,
that memory of riding; the fragrant night.
How can I open the freezer now and not see the milky irises
of his passage;
the array of paw and pelt;
jaw wrenched so far open in that rictus of longing, gasping,
his living eyes could not help but tip and follow?


Dennis Hinrichsen
DENNIS HINRICHSEN has published a number of books. His most recent, Cage of Water, appeared from the University of Akron Press in 2004. Recent poems of his have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Sou’wester and Willow Springs. He currently lives and teaches in Lansing, Michigan.
The Adirondack Review
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award