Before I knew I couldn’t fly,
my father would bundle
my green corduroy coat over my pajamas
and take me into the January-cold front yard
to count the stars.
I leaned against him, following
the long arc of his arm
as he pointed up and up,
the stars springing from his fingertips
to spin hazily through the sweet smoke
of his pipe.
He named the constellations, mispronouncing
words he’d only read, not heard,
and said if he had a sextant
he’d teach me to navigate
by the night sky.
I knew if I let go of his arm
I would fall upward into the heavens
and soar, infinite as an angel,
Cassiopeia, Orion, Ursa Major breaking
open beneath my belly.
My sockless feet, frigid in their overshoes,
stood on tiptoe, but I did not quite dare
to let go.
The tweedy scratch of his jacket on my cheek
anchored me as sure as gravity
to him, the only solid place
at the center of the universe.
for Joe Pinto, 1917-1982