I Keep Losing Sons

William Van Wert

I keep losing sons -
                         all my sons-

like a drunkard staggers,
leaves a trail of pennies.

A father who survives his sons
             is more cursed

than all the flowering Judases
             of this world


the purple cloak of crocuses,
  their mitred hats of March
    under onion snow.

My boys who would be presidents,
all gunned down.

I invented flight. From watching birds
I put wax to human backs.
But I was grown and weighed too much.
So I sent my son. He soared, my son,
like no bird ever soared so high,
and melted.

Orville watching Wilbur die.

The B52's come out of the clouds
orange with soot, on fire,
spitting death along the delta.

Narcissus on a river bed,
  arroyo-born, sluice to an image,
   forever amniotic.

   All the sons King Priam lost
  need replacements. A simple task.
Throw stones.

For Moses as for Oedipus,
the jeopardy question:
who was the father?

I need more sons, said God the Father
to his ghost.
                         You ask too much,
came the reply.

                         For Stephen Dedalus
                         the jeopardy question:
                         who is the father?

The killing of sons and civil war,

Blue and gray both turn red,

             Leaves a trail of pennies.
Styx and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.

Napoleon and Hitler, vying for the prize
for most sons extinct, most fathers extant,
a hole in the blood, a generation gap

not even photographs can capture.

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Published in association with the University of Pennsylvania Writers House
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