While he slept, I read my father’s books,
brought home from the furnace,
traced the diagrams—channels, ladles of iron,
oxygen lances—trying to follow
the metal’s path, to follow the work
that took him each night into the dark,
flame to the coal’s dark, the dark
gone bright while the rest of us slept.
The door closed like a storybook . . .
While he worked, the furnace flamed
in dream, and I tried to follow
through the swarm of yellowjackets,
hot wings of iron, but they were just
outlines in my dream, dream,
not iron, not fire in the dark—just spray
from one rare story I tried to follow.
I tried to follow, but even he
didn’t want to go, not even
in story, the blanks in the books’
diagrams all ash, all flame. All silence,
he seemed to say. But silence
is a furnace, too, where work
disappears, where breath is turned
to iron. And night is a furnace, too,
where sleep, where dark are burned away
like words until the books are blank,
and there’s nothing left to follow.
I tried, listening as he eased the stairs,
clicked the door, then drove away,
his engine lost in the trains’ low drone,
strained to hear him turning,
ten miles away, pages in the book of iron,
the story he told by not telling,
the dark in which the furnace always rests.
So, the furnace is a father, too,
whose story you cannot follow,
a shadow sitting loud in the dark,
while the quiet hardens in his lungs,
and the father is a story, too,
you cannot follow,
a book fed slowly to the fire,
a fire, worked, at last,
to two black tongues of iron.