My father had two birthdays,
but a single life. He kept both papers
with zeal, they witnessed his existence.
His birth certificate had him registered
on a different day than the one we celebrated.
With one of those dates my tired father bribed death.
My sister and I always asked him
to tell us about his childhood.
He preserved intact the hamlet,
the village, his mother, his brothers.
The wondering, menacing animals,
the trees, imprecise like someone's dream
plus, every leaf in his lineage, each fruit
with the lukewarm temperature of its pulp.
The river close to the house,
the inexhaustible rancor.
He disappeared on that shore
at the age of six. He rose
from the worm entrails of dawn
and left without giving notice.
The house was calm, a sleeping cow,
his footsteps on the thin branches
could hardly be heard.
He would sleepwalk with his eyes
sealed with wax. Grandmother told me
she caught him by the stream ready to jump,
seek out the fish that were like threads that someone
braided to escape existence.
In his stories, things had equivocal
gestures. They gave the impression
of being disguised as themselves.
They were covered with a sweet
tree bark where, and over the years,
moss had grown and ants had opened paths
without being seen.
His father barely allowed my father
to remember him. He wasn't a man,
he was anger, a handful of knuckles,
wanton, brutal desire. He hung inert
at the center of my father's memory,
dangling face down, open throat,
while the soft clay
of his blood poured into a pot.
Inheritance must be read upside-down,
traversed with the finger
as if you were following the unequal
punctuation marks of braille.
Navigate upward, then make a boat
with the sad wood of the body.
Sergio A. Ortiz is a gay Puerto Rican poet and, the founding editor of Undertow Tanka Review. He is a two time Pushcart nominee, a four time Best of the Web nominee, and a 2016 Best of the Net nominee. His poems have been published in hundreds Journals and Anthologies. He is currently working on his first full length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.