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How close the clouds press this October first
and the rain—a gray scarf across the sky.
In separate hospitals my father and a dear friend
lie waiting for their respective operations,
hours on a table as surgeons crack their chests.
They were so brave when I talked to them last
as they spoke of the good times we would share
in the future. To neither did I say how much
I loved them, nor express the extent of my fear.
Their bodies are delicate glass boxes
at which the world begins to fling its stones.
Is this the day their long cry will be released?
How can I live in this place without them?
But today is also my son’s birthday.
He is eight and beginning his difficult march.
To him the sky is welcoming, the road straight.
Far from my house he will open his presents—
a book, a Swiss army knife, some music. Where
is his manual of instructions? Where is his map
showing the dark places and how to escape them?
Copyright 1994 Stephen Dobyns. Originally published in Body Traffic and republished in Velocities: New and Selected Poems 1966-1992 published by Penguin. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.