Peter Weltner ~ My Father


The earth under my feet is trying
to sink me. My bathtub’s a creek,
its water blackened from ash-like soot.
I wash what grime I can off.
My father pounds on the door, shouts,
“What’re you doing in there? It’s school time.”

The streets of Memphis are burning. Tanks
crush a revolt in Budapest. Young boys
in Algeria are tortured, die tangled in wire,
burnooses, tied to posts.

I’m seized by a nightmare I dread,
a century old sunk ship near my home
rises out of the sand. Kidnapped by
a press gang, oh fatherless, I disappear.


I sit on a curb. No streetlights are permitted
in my neighborhood. Like someone dying, I wander
from home. In his slippers, pajamas, robe, my father
searches for me in the dark, calling my name
down the long driveway. Nearly visible in the night,
I glide down the street, toward stone walls, an iron
gate and a lawn as meticulously shorn and tended
as a country club green. In my room, the wind’s
whistling through loose panes, a ghostly intruder
in my brain, no stalker, no fantasy, the rain
again, the bracing winter rain, the hail and ice.
Listen. The key is in the lock, the latch clicks,
the door opens. All this I hear. Not a burglar,
my father’s home. Why fear anything, anyone,
if I’m never alone, night my friend, the graveyard wall.


Sprawled on a bench, a man in wine-soaked,
bedraggled clothes is feeding gulls, and crows
from a box of corn cereal while wailing.
His hands and forearms are black from mud.
Striped white and blue, a wind surfer’s sail
flies over the dunes like a lost balloon.
A punk on a motorcycle guns his engine. A kid
on a bicycle races past. Dressed
in sweats, pony tails tied in ribbons,
two girls jog around him. The bum shoves
chips from the box into his mouth, chokes,
wheezes until he spits it out like vomit.
He stinks. What kindness was ever done him?
Mist refracts a blackening sun. Am I no one,
my father, a child of the wild and bitterly cold?


It’s solitude made the world and left undivided
dark from day. Last night, I watched fog swallow
a whitewashed moon and the streams of the milky way.
Mist fell like snow to cover the world, to blanket
and comfort the life below, the dead in the ground
still struggling to breathe. The sea near my cliffside
cell cracked like ice, roared louder than a surging river.

Father, my father. The heart begins and ends
in betrayal, the mute farewell of those who say
goodbye when it’s long past time to say it.

White is my body, the earth still whiter, pallid
as the sky. I write this last note with my breath
for a pen to tell you I‘m a thief of lies, a solitary
prisoner permitted to see nothing except
the white of your eyes, loveless in their clarity.


from The Return of What’s Been Lost, Marrowstone Press, Seattle, 2017

Peter Weltner has published six books of fiction, including The Risk of His Music and How the Body Prays, and, in 2017, The Return of What’s Been Lost, five poetry chapbooks, among them The One-Winged Body and Water’s Eye (both in collaboration with the artist Galen Garwood), and six full length collections of poetry, News from the World at My Birth: A History, The Outerlands, To the Final Cinder, Stone Altars, Late Summer Storm in Early Winter (with photographs and paintings by Galen Garwood), and most recently The Light of the Sun Become Sea. Peter is DM’s 2017 Artist-in-Residence. He and his husband live in San Francisco by the ocean.

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