Cold Knowing

by Richard Taylor

Water from the well in its corner of our barn and house
can straighten a person up pink and suddenly
with cold astringent lacings up the eyelets of a spine.

First myself then he, we pitch the chill baptismal bucket
that binds a father to a son, blind to any firmament except
our private ivory galaxy with its few dark stars.

The soap rubs up to infant clouds around his ears,
his armpits, lathers his substantial manliness, while I
shiver in my smile, having none such to compare.

I am the altar boy to fetch the cup from the water’s table
at the bottom of the dark where I see myself at a rope’s length
looking back and fear to dip less than from the coldest knowing.

The bucket dropping from both hands, mouth down,
fills full, and the windlass likes its reeling up the water
clean and terrible for father in the tatters of his suds.

At a stroke redemption pure and puritanical pours
ice along his spine, sucks in his breath as every pore
slams shut, screams to a deity with no charity or name

for the cut it spends on tender flesh. I had thought
our local recompense distilled below of old
and ever since came up more mercifully parceled

in its bucket sized to a naked boy who ministers
what yet abounds of innocence, until I stand
on the other side and father comes toward me with his pail,

overfull and licking. Half my mother watches
from the window curtain, and she smiles as if uncertain
how her one becoming old will teach her other

not yet finished being young until we leap
and laugh past all proportion but exactly as a bucket
of cold knowing from the well makes naked men.