We were sixteen when they evacuated the gymnasium

in the middle of the English exam (anonymous bomb

threat, year after Columbine). I was writing on Roethke –

not the poem we’d read in class and most everyone agreed

told the story of an abusive father and forgiving son,

but one about a root cellar in Saginaw, moist and stinking.

Leaf-mold, manure, lime: I balanced on speed-bumps,

covered my ears from the St. Clair cold, floating answers.

When I was fourteen I won the school geography bee

with an answer I had already known but still over-saw.

Back inside, I conflated synecdoche, metonymy –

Nothing would sleep inside that cellar, dank as a ditch.

This is what I think of on the pavement behind the library,

crying a list of your father’s faults, taking the streetlamps

for the grounded constellations of pots, pans and riders.

You read their dance as one of love, and so too your own –

and as you move to hold me up, mute, only the dirt keeps

breathing a small breath, the promise of forgiveness.