On my way out of his room
I said I’ll see you. He raised his arm.
I didn’t think he had the strength.
His forearm straight up, his knuckles
facing me, he pumped his fist,
bright, bitter glory in his eyes.
Was it an insult? Was it pride
flaming in him even when he lay
immobile, loose, fleshless skin
hanging from arm and leg bones?
I didn’t know. I half-smiled at him
and left, feeling what I realized
a moment later was hope.
That I meant something to him.
That he had signalled me Go on
in the fight of life. He was a day
away from death. Perhaps the gesture
was meant to oblige; I was his son.
But perhaps meant as more. Perhaps.
I took that. I took what I could
of the certainty of his love. I held on
to it as a last communication
from my father. He had been gone
and I had become a yearning boy.
His ashes are buried in my arm.
Russell Thornton’s most recent books are Answer to Blue (due out from Harbour Publishing, fall 2021) and The Broken Face (Harbour, 2018). His collection The Hundred Lives was shortlisted for the 2015 Griffin Prize; his Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain was shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Award. He lives in North Vancouver, BC.