Back to Issue Thirty-Four

At Night You Read to Me


Once, you read the essay where the past
        is compared to a lighthouse

as if we climb a metal staircase
        each year and can look

down on our lives, the wild motion
        of days ordered into meaning.

Years later, inside that spine
        of lightness, hours unwound

into remembering,
        I can see the water glass

beside the book on the nightstand
        a page you folded at its corner—

little lighthouse, little sea—
        our happiness together.

Except, I’ve got it wrong.
        You never read me the essay

about the lighthouse. It was about a man
        who speaks too late to his father.

Remembers crushing ice
        with the heavy spiral of a rolling pin.

Feeding him broken chips.
        The cool. The hand. The mouth.

If I write again about my father
        may my hands fall off,

my tongue harden to obsidian.
        Or, give me the punishment of myths:

my son will never speak to me,
        or he’ll speak to me in that tone, write

every mistake, tell all I’ve done wrong
        and regret every word.


The Docent


                                        Of art deco hotels 
he was a kind of expert—who died there,
who slept there—a sly grin, a knowing wink. 
Easy charm and wit, ladies with blue hair 
loved him like a son. On tours of historic 
buildings downtown he knew every architect 
but couldn’t name what he wanted.
Words escaped me too.

We lied about our first meeting.
We lied to our friends. To each other.
One night he put his hand on my cheek
told me not to worry.
My skin is the wind, his hand a weathervane. 
I can’t remember why I was upset.
I can’t remember what he said, what solace
he named, what shame he didn’t.

He walks backwards in my dreams. 
He never looks down. His hands offer 
this house or that. I walk towards him.
A tour of my old neighborhood:
this garden planted by an oil baron,
this church rebuilt twice. My coy guide, 
where are we going? When will we arrive? 
What will we call that place?

Joshua Rivkin is the author of two books, Suitor: Poems (Red Hen 2020) and Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly (Melville House 2018), a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and finalist for 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. His poems and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best New Poets. A former Fulbright Fellow in Rome, Italy, as well as a Stegner Fellow in poetry, he has received awards and scholarships from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Rivkin lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his family.

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