by Zan Bockes
How could this small box hold my father–
great in his muscles and stride, great
for the life he loved, guiding us
to places full of light
where we were not afraid?
How did this tiny part of him
survive fire and the slamming
door of death, only gravel left
to signify the space he filled?
One summer night when I was eight,
I wandered from our campsite
on the Platte, crawling from the tent
over my father’s sleeping body.
I felt for trees and bushes
with blind hands, trying to remember
the path back, but I forgot
the bark of the cottonwood,
the scratch of each briar
indistinguishable from the last.
Above, a sugar bowl of stars
offered only the truth of my
minuteness, my lostness
in the sky.
I crouched near a boundless
alfalfa field I’d seen by daylight,
captured by its expanse. I waited,
listening to night shift around me.
Then my father’s voice
rose above the crickets:
“Where are you?”
“Here!” I cried.
The dancing circle of his flashlight
trembled in the distance.
“Stay there. Let me find you.”
I would have run to the little light
but for the unknown that separated us.
The star grew near enough
to touch, and my father
gathered me in his sure strength,
carried me back to our canvas house.
The crunch of the gravel road
beneath his feet became
the sound I follow now,
far from this small event,
closer to the place he finally went
beyond this box’s hollow rattle,
where flashlights burn like the sun.