Portrait of My Father as Tree Rings – Kara Knickerbocker

We chain this to memory, how seasons hand you back a little less each time. Your beard, white, drifts you plowed and shoveled so many years.  Work carried into overtime on holidays, bending to a bad back; now one shoulder blade perches higher.  Sometimes I wear your blue flannel, try to forget how it now hangs loose on your skin.

Once, your muscles could fix everything.  Now, you tinker in the garage to keep your hands & mind busy.  I call, talk to mom.  She sees time in slow motion peeling back, confusion lifting the roof. How you got lost hunting in the woods behind our house: you knew every tree and clearing like the vitiligo spots spreading across the landscape of your hands.  Do you feel yourself shrinking in circles?

How many more seasons do we have left?

I have found you in the inner bark, again and again in oaked memory.  You were the one lifting heavy pieces when we stacked firewood, but now you just stand, looking out from the back porch at the life you built there, the wood pile, bony branches humming into empty spring air, you humming too, song of mourning doves— the thing you always remember.

Kara Knickerbocker is the author of the chapbooks The Shedding Before the Swell & Next to Everything that is Breakable. Her poetry & essays appear in: Poet Lore, HOBART, & Levee Magazine, and more. Find her online: www.karaknickerbocker.com, Twitter @karaknick.

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