, April 24, 2024

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In His Lover’s House, A Father Rises

  •   2 min reads
In His Lover’s House, A Father Rises
Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash


Rox­ane Beth John­son​’s ele­gy to her father is strik­ing for the ten­der and inti­mate details that con­sti­tute the mem­o­ry of him, espe­cial­ly his shirts, which become almost tal­is­mans for her to explore ideas of mor­tal­i­ty and life: ​“first slick with water, last a bowl of ash.” In the end, this beau­ti­ful son­net, ​“In His Lover’s House, A Father Ris­es”, is an ode to per­sis­tent mem­o­ry as an anti­dote to the exis­ten­tial void of death.

By Roxane Beth Johnson

The end’s always there at the beginning
Dad said, quoting a prophet who knew then
what we’d come to—beings held in two hands
first slick with water, last a bowl of ash.
As a girl, I ironed his shirts, seams stained
from sweat, hot-washed in bleach turned yellow, and grass
scent of clean white rose under the iron’s
scald and steam I used to press his shirts out.
How fitting in the end a heap were found
in his lover’s house, the last I heard
of him who told me always that the grass
and ants were ancestors come back to see
if we’d crush them, then forget them again—
like dust their lives so small compared to ours.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Roxane Beth Johnson,In His Lover’s House, A Father Rises” from Harvard Review, 45, June 10, 2020. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2022 by The Poetry Foundation.

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