The Arcade

Navesink River, Linda Ensor

The Arcade
Jeffrey Alfier

Low sun and rising wind track me to the Navesink River
where its waters compass my hometown.
What is a hometown without your last living parent?
Here, it becomes a writ of silence not dispelled
by the din about me — the Jersey Central
my father took each day to Manhattan
to program computers till work wore him down
in the early ’90s. I drift back to my last visit home,
he asking me to walk him across a grocery lot
so he could buy the marked-down sardines
he lauded in his final years, his manna
in a private wilderness. It is spring, yet I see him
of a winter morning in paint-splotched bomber jacket
and dungarees—a thin bluish cloud
in the near-distance, brushing snow off his shoulders
—Yeats’ tattered coat upon a stick, this man
who spoke in dialects of scavenged tools,
salvaged machines, a world swaddled
in the surety of duct tape. On my cell
I retain his last message. He said he’d fallen
in the kitchen, his words a shadow-presence
from the slow and narrowing road of his failing heart.
An untethered feeling pervades now, the town gone alien
to its purpose even as I take to streets that mapped
the last half-century of his life. Like Joyce’s Araby,
we are always late to the arcade, and the arcade
is forever closing. Something unanswered hangs in the air,
something foreclosed. Like that door across the river
I still retain the key to, its small window revealing
other faces now, the cadence of other footsteps behind it.

Jeffrey Alfier’s most recent book, The Shadow Field, was published by Louisiana Literature Journal & Press (2020). He is co-editor of San Pedro River Review.