A man never suffers the depths of his own cruelty
until his daughter recognizes him for the first time.
He cradles the nascent woman and beholds her eyes.
The human in her fixes his image and trusts him.
He lifts her to his face and inhales her,
a breeze that’s settled in his lap.
He turns his ear to her voice and sings
Though he can’t remember when he last sung.
He smooths his palm across her head
and shudders at how breakable it must be.
Her own hands cannot be reproduced by any form of art.
Over time, she begins to skip ahead of him through the grass,
hums for no special reason. He marvels at her exhuberance,
laughs when her arguments outdistance his. He discovers
a quality he lacks but has no definition for. Her ways
terrify him, he fears something unknown will crush her
and she will vanish with the best of his memories. She
grows taller, bolder, more private. He watches her
test herself in the mirror, pleading for approval,
notices how much time it takes and how carefully
she draws herself new with pencil and brush,
how often she pulls a comb through her hair.
When the doorbell rings, he smiles with her,
her face anticipating the boy outside.
Late in the night, when her sobs shake the settled house,
he carries her pain with him outside and sits alone,
feeling each sob again as he confesses the Spring dance when
he stood up the girl who already bought his boutonniere;
the woman dressed for dinner he told he could never love.
He confesses the lies he authored, his battering wit,
his need to feel victorious and draw tears.
He confesses these and other unthinkable sorrows
to the old breeze haunting him now, to the faces
of the women who took him in with their eyes
and trusted him to see them human. He hates himself,
hates his whining voice begging to give them back
what he stripped away.