for my father
To be in your skin, I put on your favorite animal,
adjust the strap on the tiger hat:
the pink nose rimmed with black,
sharp fangs, the stately stripes.
Your large paws are ghosts
on my shoulders: they weigh me down,
they lift me up. I wear
your paisley robe with royal blue
lining. Satin, fancier than you
ever aspired to. Another skin.
I am still discovering
as I dig through the pockets
of your cast-off clothes.
It's like that mole
excised when I was small
The one my parents feared
would mar my appearance,
or become a focal point –
a tree obscuring the forest –
of my face, no one can see
but I can still feel it,
that tiny absence, the lingering
almost invisible depression.
I remember you after midnight
waking with some ache or pain,
struggling with breath –
how the nurses came,
how I struggled, in my own pain –
the breadth of responsibility
so wide – between your suffering
and what we had to gain –
by keeping you another night
in the morning to begin again,
for what few hours you had left,
not knowing you were so close to flight:
a breakfast of peaches – canned, not fresh –
all that they could find. A last cleansing bath,
a rite, a story I read aloud while you rested.
You chose the moment and left;
I searched in vain for your breath.
Betsy Mars is a poet, photographer, and occasional publisher. She founded Kingly Street Press and released her first anthology, Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take Up the Knife, in October 2019. Her work has recently appeared in Verse Virtual, San Pedro River Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, and The Ekphrastic Review. Her chapbook, Alinea, was published in January 2019. In the Muddle of the Night, with Alan Walowitz, is coming soon from Arroyo Seco Press.