Right off I hear him singing, the strings of his old guitar hemming the darkness as before—late nights on the front porch— the mountains across the valley blurred to outline. We are at it again, father and daughter, deep in our cups, rehearsing the long years between us. In the distance I hear the foghorn call of bullfrogs, envoys from the river of lamentation my father is determined to cross. Already I know where this is headed: how many times has the night turned toward regret? My father saying, If only I’d been a better husband she’d be alive today, saying, Gwen and I would get back together if she were alive. It’s the same old song. He is Orpheus trying to bring her back with the music of his words, lines of a poem drifting now into my dream. Picking the first chords, my father leans into the neck of the guitar, rolls his shoulders until he’s lost in it— the song carrying him across the porch and down into the damp grass. Even asleep, I know where he is going. I cannot call him back. Through the valley the blacktop winds like a river, and he is stepping into it, walking now toward the other side where she waits, my mother, just out of reach.
She is the vessels on the table before her: the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand. She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow— the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her: his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.