Poem Beginning with “My Father”

by Craig van Rooyen
Featured Art: Ancient Roman Ruins – Giovanni Paolo Panini



My father fills a syringe with insulin,
pushes the needle through his shirt into belly skin,
looks through the window at his dying lawn.
He writes a note to me: Summer’s early here, bud.
Your mom’s still on me to lay off the Snickers.
She means well, of course.
The oak tree’s about to go—groans all night long.
Caravaggio is one of my favorites. A sensitive scoundrel.
Go see Conversion On The Road To Damascus.
All is of Grace, Dad.


Four lions stick out hollow tongues
in the middle of Piazza del Popolo.
Each tongue spews water—spilling down
stepped plinths into four collection pools
whose surfaces are mildly disturbed
but never overflow. With their perspective of stone,
the lions have remained unmoved for 200 years.
How, I wonder, can they gaze without weeping
at the sun-burned stoner strumming a distorted
“Stairway To Heaven.”
I stumble from one to another,
dropping coins until my pockets are empty.


When he baptized me, my father’s robe floated
up around him like the wings of a manta ray,
revealing the soft skin of his shins to the believers.
We stood in a glass tank, with nothing to hide.
He covered my eyes with a handkerchief,
dipped me backwards into new life.
I trusted his strong arms
more than God.


Fountains fill my photographs: pissing cherubs,
horses with fish tails. Granite seashells emerge
amid glistening mermaids—
breasts taut in the exquisite way
stone has of lying about flesh and time.


How can I begin to soak it in?
My father has stopped watering his flowers.
Why can’t I remember the day
he became too weak to carry me?
He used to stand chest-deep,
pushing me into the muscled belly of waves
surging from a sea
that seemed to have no end.


I try to dissolve in St. Peter’s Square
with other pilgrims who wish to feel something,
and almost—holding our little screens above our heads—
we become a bigger thing
and for that moment it feels as if God can see us
as an eagle is able to see fish
mouthing the bottom of the sky.

Craig van Rooyen holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University. He lives and works in San Luis Obispo, CA. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Narrative, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize, and he was runner-up for the 2018 Auburn Witness Prize.

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