When they were small, I’d line them up

before we’d go into the grocery store,

spit on a tissue and wipe their faces,

straighten their hair, inspect.

They say now I was marking them.

I’ve watched how ravens raise theirs.

By fall, big enough to fly for an hour,

the parents lead the grown ones

away from the nest up the mountain forest

as they squawk and loop,

following to a new silence.

The old book of cobbled myths

prescribes how fathers

should rub the newborns with salt.

The patriarchs dictated,

they must mark the children,

perform the ritual

as a sign of their covenant with god,

disinfect the corrupt tendencies of the heart,

so that the child would be truthful.

But it is no guarantee.

Though you believe they never will,

when they lie to you the first time,

you ache as though you’ve been cut,

as though something has broken,

never thinking you could ever close

such a wound.

You try to construct the lesson of forgiveness.

You think for days

that it is a fault of your own making.

But the lies are critical,

it is the way we learn to forgive,

the way we learn

that our eyes give us away.


Mark Burke


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