My Father’s Closet

By D. Nurkse D. Nurkse
1 hat   

As soon as I put it on
Brooklyn went dark,
but when I took it off
my wooden horse stared at me
with dazzling glass eyes.

                  2 coat   

The shirred hem
swished on the floor.
Huge shoulders sloped
like pines under snow.
A panel in the lapel
read Kuut, Tallinn
in thread letters.
I hid at the center
behind jet buttons
too round to undo.
That coarse-nap wool
outlasted Estonian winter
but now the moths
left a trellis of holes
so it was never dark
when I curled up
hugging my knees.
My mother cried out:
Who are you?   I answered
in my deepest voice:
His coat.

                  3 shoes   

I shoved my hands in
and taught them to walk:
now stumble, now march
against your will, left, right,
to the Narva front:

now dance:
                  and somewhere
in that immense city
where snow trembled
in high lit windows,
a footstep receded,
rapid, urgent,
indelible as a name.

D. Nurkse, "My Father’s Closet" from Burnt Island: Three Suites. Copyright © 2005 by D. Nurkse.  Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Burnt Island: Three Suites (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

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Poet D. Nurkse

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Relationships

 D.  Nurkse


D. Nurkse is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Rules of Paradise (2001), The Fall (2003), and The Border Kingdom (2008). His parents escaped Nazi Europe during World War II—his Estonian father worked for the League of Nations in Vienna, his mother was an artist—and moved to New York. Nurkse’s family moved back to live in Europe for a number of years, returning to the United States around the time of the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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