Poem: Final Poem for My Father Misnamed In My Mouth

This is one of many “Final Poems” in Phillip B. Williams’s latest book, “Mutiny.” These poems — with titles like “Final First Poem,” “Final Poem for the Crow” and “Final Poem for the ‘Black Body’” — are beautiful in their language, in their subversion and rhetoric of questioning. They seem to be self-empowering in their farewells to oppressive tradition, standards, systems and structures. In this poem, the speaker grapples with the grief of losing a father who was missing while alive, but in death feels omnipresent. The heart of the poem lies in the questions and possibility, even if that possibility once only “had one wing.” Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Final Poem for My Father Misnamed In My Mouth

By Phillip B. Williams

Sunlight still holds you and gives
your shapelessness to every room.
By noon, the kitchen catches your hands,
misshapen sunrays. The windows
have your eyes. Taken from me,
your body. I reorder my life with
absence. You are everywhere now
where once I could not find you
even in your own body. Death means
everything has become
possible. I’ve been told I have
your ways, your laughter haunts my mother
from my throat. Everything
is possible. Fatherlight
washes over the kitchen floor.
I try to hold a bit of kindness
for the dead and make of memory
a sponge to wash your corpse.
Your name is not addict or sir.
This is not a dream: you died
and were buried three times. Once,
after my birth. Again, against
your hellos shedding into closing doors,
your face a mask I placed over my face.
The final time, you beneath my feet. Was I
buried with you then? I will not call
what you had left anything
other than gone and sweet perhaps. I am
not your junior, but I fell in love
with being your son. Now what? Possibility
was a bird I once knew. It had one wing.

Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. Program. Phillip B. Williams is the author of two books, including “Mutiny” (Penguin Books, 2021), from which this poem is taken. His honors include a Lambda Literary Award and a Whiting Award.

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