Photo, Brownie Troop, St. Louis, 1949
(After Larry Levis)
I’m going to put Karen Prasse right here
in front of you on this page
so that you won’t mistake her for something else,
an example of precocity, for instance,
a girl who knew that the sky (blue crayon)
was above the earth (green crayon)
and did not, as you had drawn it, come right down
to the green on which your three bears stood.
You can tell from her outfit that she is a Brownie.
You can tell from her socks that she knows how
to line things up, from her mouth that she may
grow up mean or simply competent. Do not
mistake her for an art critic: when she told you
the first day of first grade that your drawing
was ‘wrong,’ you stood your ground and told her
to look out the window. Miss Voss told your mom
you were going to be a good example of something,
but you cannot tell from the way your socks sag,
nor from your posture, far from Brownie-crisp.
This is not about you for a change, but about
misperception, of which Karen was an early example.
Who knows? She may have meant to be helpful,
though that is not always a virtue,
and gets in the way of some art.
Somewhere my father is dying,
but I am in a room with the lemon light
of beachfront property. Drying moss
cushions one wall, pads the planks
of an upstairs bedroom where my aunt and I
puzzle over the odd footprint in the moss.
Tall windows in this room of filtered light
glean the hills and bluff behind the house
for signs of life beyond the beachfront walk;
my father is dying somewhere.
The footprint seems a cougar’s, but how stalk
into a room so wild a thing, how dare
encroach upon this house, and where,
having stolen into this room,
is he, huge shadow, tawny avatar,
sliding along a wall, forecasting doom?
My aunt is sure he has left the place:
we both recall that strange baby-crying
mewl we woke to in fog of morning’s grace.
Back home my father is dying
but I can’t get to him, leave the house,
not while the cougar might be hiding
down the hall or behind a mossy couch.
He’s left his mark— he may be biding
his own sweet time, crouched downstairs,
tawny avatar, shadow of death enraged
and merciless between me and where
somewhere, uncaged, my father is dying.