Alex Chertok has poems published or forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others, and essays on his prison teaching published in Ploughshares and forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019, and finalist in the 2021, James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as finalist in the 2020 Third Coast Poetry Contest. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.
The trees are still mostly green.
One hemisphere of paleness, a plaque or two
of blood-coloreds, shadows in the branch-tangles.
A bird drums the house, forest code for next week’s cold,
last-ditch loin-throb, syntax of knuckle taps against the siding,
against a desk, my father, his uncut hair, the claw’s sill-scrape
of his fingers scratching it in a sorry one-room apartment.
It’s time to keep him here before his leaves
blush so burning red they lose their grip and rot to litter.
Before he’s flown the coop and the drumming bird’s
carried south to leave behind the lonely
amygdala of its nest on the top branch.
Pinion him to the page now that he still has some hangers-on
at the top of his gladiola.
Before our stories wisp to seeds we blow into his face.
Take inventory. The wind moves this way
and that against the lost dog poster
sloughed onto the telephone poll’s wooden skin.
Years still left in him,
hard of hearing, bald patch, newly dead-
panning on the latest looping thought, still knows
an email means to sing into our ear.
Bolt him to the world, the not-yet-naked woods.
A small cure, another Alzheimer’s pill
to stop time before he makes a break for it
toward the next town’s empty greenhouse
of his mind, lighting up the foggy night
like a bootleg recording of the moon.
My father is
blush and rot
to still hang on.
Our stories blow into his face.
of his mind