Among the Tunnels

by Joel Peckman

To my father

When it’s not only your memories but yourself you’ve lost, misplaced like a pair of reading glasses, left on the counter of the DMV when you got to the front of the line to find you left your wallet in the dash and had to head back out to the parking lot and turned in a circle, thinking, where did I park? where did I put my keys? Father, somewhere in there behind the blank stare and all the confusion when your eyes find mine, focus and unfocus and swim off, I imagine you in darkness in the tunnels, groping along, with even the damp walls that guided you gone, receding back beyond the reach of fingers. As you stare in disbelief — that you could be this man, this helpless and alone. That there is no shaft of light. No ladder leading up and out and home. No soft hand to grasp or lilting voice to lead you on. Only the echo of your own voice insisting that you can’t have come so far to find these tunnels don’t lead somewhere or at least go on forever everywhere beneath cornfields and strip malls, the slow moving rivers of the Midwest, the hurtling interstates of the north. So far from the distant sounds of the world above, a half-remembered love song you might have heard on the lips of your father in the nursing home as he stared emptily off at a television bolted to a wall. Your lips moving silently just like his as if a song might lead you back or out, your arms outstretched to silences that finally have no turnings but bloom like that clearing in the woods that found you once, a child of seven lost for an hour that may have been a century.

And I half want to let you let you go: anywhere, everywhere, turn left or right or stop, no longer searching for the man you were but drop down deep to feel the ground. And find your hands again impossible and strong and young, pushing the earth across a galaxy of burned out suns like some teenager pushing a car on the downslope of an unlit gravel road. It starts to move a little slow, then speeds up, rolls away, you stumbling after, waving, falling, calling to your date, Now! Now! Pop it! Now and she does — laughing as the engine jolts and purrs and something in you shudders, then opens — like a door.

Musical composition by Victor David Sandiego

Joel Peckham’s most recent collections include two poetry manuscripts, God’s Bicycle and Why Not Take All of Me (both from Futurecycle). Chicago Review Press Publishers released his memoir, Resisting Elegy: Essay on Grief and Recovery in 2016. His new collection of essays, Body Memory, is forthcoming from New Rivers Press in 2016. Individual poems and essays have appeared in many journals, including, The Black Warrior Review, The North American Review, Prairie Schooner, River Teeth, and The Southern Review. He lives with his wife Rachael and son, Darius, in Huntington WV.