Father talk

One more post prompted by WordPress:
Talk about your father or the father figure in your life…

He has born in a tenant farmer’s house
one October afternoon
during the Great Depression
the first child of a sharecropper and his wife

a responsible boy
who loved chocolate
most of all his grandmother’s fudge
made especially for him
whenever he spent the night

listening to rain
dancing on the tin roof
like dozens of squirrel feet

a boy who took baths
in a galvanized tub
behind a curtain strung
from the heater
in the living room
(there was no indoor bathroom,
only an outhouse)

a boy who loved cars
who wrote about racing

a boy who loved planes
who grew up
to join the Air Force

(after graduating high school
as senior class president)

a young man far away from home
who learned to love
Mexican food

who returned to visit his grandmother
(Mama, he called her)
carrying her for a ride
in his new white Thunderbird
Hold onto your snuff jar,
Mama

who eventually went to work
as a security guard

then marrying a girl
with big dark eyes

becoming father
a year and a half later

there are black-and-white photos
of me in his lap
wearing his hard hat

me sandwiched
between him and his father
on the sofa
all looking as serious
as the Culhanes
on Hee Haw

I can see him
sitting in the corner
rag in hand
shining his work shoes
I can still smell
the acrid black polish
from the little round tin

him taking me
to buy a parakeet I’d begged for
(I wanted the blue and white one
he said the yellow one looked better
so that’s the one we got)

the hall light coming on
late at night
when an asthma attack
had me wheezing
him coming to give me Benadryl
(it didn’t help)

him setting up the vaporizer
with Vick’s poured in the little tray
(it didn’t help)

many trips to
the ear, nose, and throat doctor
for allergy shots
(they didn’t help)

him sitting beside me
in the waiting room
(that helped
more than he ever knew)

him standing by
holding my doll
looking green
as an orthopedist pulled
and pulled
and pulled
my broken arm
to set it

intervening
like a bolt of lightning
when I screamed

him working every holiday
for the extra pay

him in his chair
watching Sonny and Cher

him telling me
after I married
that if I ever needed to
I could come home

him in a hospital bed
refusing to be taken to the OR
for coronary bypass surgery
until I arrived
and he saw me

him consequently
giving up cigarettes
for cigars
(surely that didn’t help)

him facing battles
that most people
still don’t know about

I knew

him giving me a cross necklace
at a family funeral

me wearing it to his
after he went
so suddenly

funny how
I find myself thinking now
of his scowl
and his warning
Get off your high horse

and his irritation
when I was small
Stop smearing!

(does anyone else
on Earth
use that phrase
for wasting time)

and all the neighborhood kids saying
Your dad is so strict

he was

but then there was his laugh
his love of silly jokes

him listening
while I played my Billy Joel album
and astonishing me
by saying he liked that song,
Stiletto

I bet it was the beat

twenty years now
he’s been gone

not seeing my boys grow up
missing so much

once in a while,
they stand like him
move like him
scowl like him

he’d be amazed by them

and fascinated by how
they like many things he did
such as some of
the same old-time music

his little great-granddaughter
who shares his birth month
will not know him
any more than I knew Mama

only a year in the world
and she loves music
and is already
something of a notorious scowler

her dad says
her head is shaped
just like Granddaddy’s

—the exact thing
you said about me
when I was born

but it’s not Granddaddy’s visage
I glimpse in the mirror these days

it’s yours
more and more

in so many ways, Daddy,
like all the stories
we lived
and every one
you told and retold
blood keeps pounding its rhythms
the beat goes on

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