Grey slate sky
November air
assaulted ears—
searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes.

Broken bird’s nest,
old wooden bridge,
toppled fungi towers,
empty trails.
The bitter wind
swallowed my tears,
searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes
I’d only seen
a handful of times.

Leaves muffled
sobbing steps,
and I knew that he
was in a city
far from me
hooked to an IV
(pumping his body
full of drugs) and
choking on his own lungs.

And today,
he would not remember my name.
And I knew
his body was far from me
filled with a disease he couldn’t beat,
but I knew
if I wanted to find him,
it wouldn’t be
in a hospital
of glass-eyed nurses
labeled “Oncology Unit.”

He would run to the woods
he taught me to navigate,
where the dirt and the rocks
recognize your feet,
where you find years
inside seconds
in the bark of a tree.
Where the wild herb grows—
Yellow Root, bloodroot,
Lady’s slipper and jewelweed.
Where you can always go
when you’ve lost yourself
and need to go back home.

I knew
that’s what he would have done,
so I ran to the woods
searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes
that were once
so full of pride.

Brimming with music
ink-spot irises
floating in another plane—
cocaine marijuana whiskey
dripping poetry from the corners
like teardrops
he’d twist into
delicate manuscript,
verse and line.
File it away
in a neat little stack
with the cases and boxes
and satchels and folders
overflowing with
handwritten music notes—
songs, poetry, every minute
of his life
in fragile stanzas.

I didn’t know
how many minutes,
how many stanzas
remained to be written,
so I searched Lost River
for my father’s eyes,
always aware
his eyes were the air
filtered through
the pores of leaves.
His hands
the roaming roots
of oak and maple,
and his spirit
was floating
in that bottle of whiskey
back home.

But I kept running,
looking for recognition
in a piece of moss,
broken seed pods on the ground,
in the bark of ash tree—
looking for anything
that could have said
he is your father
and you are his daughter.

Searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes
that had never
tucked me into bed,
kissed me goodnight,
or held my hand,
but had taught me
to be strong
and not to grow cold,
to always accept people
exactly as they are.
Who showed me
music was art,
a pen was a paintbrush,
and the arms you can miss the most
are the ones
that have never held you.

Searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes,
all I found
was this empty space
a father should have occupied,
but the only father
I’d been given
was taking radiation.
Kentucky tobacco cancer
stole his breath,
stole his brain.

There was no salvation
searching Lost River
for my father’s eyes,
just a question
invading my lungs now:
Would I see
the blue eyes
he’d given to my children
before the poetry
had left them forever?

Copyright © Tia Kessler, 2014