National Anthem with Elegy and Talon

Looking at the North Star this February
evening, I can feel the word “father” pulse
down my jugular vein and hibernate
in the phalanxes of my finger bones.
“Father,” vellum whispers to the bull-god
in the pasture. Call this lowing, religion.
“Father,” apple mouths as it scuds to earth.
Every sad thing in the human heart weighs
the sum of dust motes dancing in sunlight.
Call this truth the portage and redemption
of a childhood memory alchemized
into bramble and ash. There, my mother
remains locked in the basement, a barbell-
shaped bruise throbbed tuberous under her blouse.
“Father,” the rusting bayonet rumors
to the plastic-wrapped full dress uniform
starched on a hanger in the bomb shelter;
its sharpshooter medals shine like astral
doubloons a-glimmer in the galleon
of a distant nebula’s wrecked outline.
Here in America, trauma and rage
dovetail, become birthright, counterclaim us;
the wind brinks through plain poplar and linden,
consecrating the air above your grave.
Your face was always etched like a tombstone,
I say to the mirror in the morning,
and there you are my father, a bequest
of crow’s feet in an era of warring
tribes and constellations, and brilliant claws.


Dante Di Stefano’s collection of poetry, Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, is forthcoming from Brighthorse Books. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant CornersIron Horse Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, The New Orleans Review,Obsidian, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, The Writer’s Chronicle, and elsewhere. Most recently, he is the winner of the Red Hen Press Poetry Award and the Crab Orchard Review’s Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry.