(for Matthew O. Cleveland)
You came to New York
bearing a hat because your hair,
like the last dead leaves
of winter, had been shaken loose,
the branches now bare and
waiting for summer to renew
your lease on life.
Prednisone became the new ambrosia,
thickened your arms into tree trunks
so you could carry a forty pound
backpack more than ten city blocks
with a smile that cut the sun.
Only the blossom in your eye
outpaced your laughter,
slowed its pace long enough
for you to drink from the quarter moon
as if it were the sea.
As a boy you knew
boundaries were bones
to be broken under a father’s rage,
transformed yourself into a galaxy
of stories and endless
rounds of whiskey to stave
off the night’s encroaching
blindness, your final breath
the gasp of every newborn’s cry.
Nancy Hightower has had poetry published in The New York Quarterly, decomP, Spry, Heavy Feather Review, Longleaf Review, and Drunk Monkeys, among others. Her first collection of poetry, The Acolyte, was published in 2015 by Port Yonder Press. In April 2018, she was granted a micro-residency at the Strand Bookstore by The Poetry Society of New York as part of their joint Poet-A-Day Project.