Tahuya

 

 

Stick Figure published Tahuya in Issue #5, on 3/31/2022. 

 

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Bread

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My Father's Last Disappointment, Not Easy and Grand Union 

 

The Bryant Literary Review published the following three pieces about my father in Volume 23, pages 68 to 77. 

 

My Father’s Last Disappointment

 

 

He had a name like cashmere, Kazimierz,

but changed it to Charles (and went by Charlie)

so people could pronounce his name,

 so he could leave Poland behind.

 

Which he did, almost

completely.

 

Only his accent stayed,

his ideas of things that mattered.

He had to have a hat with a feather

in the band;

a sharply creased, dark gray suit;

a starched white shirt; an expensive

gold watch

to wear on Saturday night.

 

He'd scrub himself rosy

taking care to remove

the dark circles of coal dust around his eyes.

Then he'd get dressed and go to the bar

to sit with his friends, Jack Moore and Ignatz Matchiofski.

Sometime during the evening, Dad

would pull his sleeve up,

the cuff crisp,

to look at the time,

like someone important,

with a schedule and places to go.

 

Right before he died,

someone stole his watch.

He wanted a new one,

wanted to know the time,

so important now that it passed in tidal

waves of morphine sweeping him over reefs

he never knew existed.

 

But my brother didn't think

we should spend the money.

"He's dying," he said. "Why should we spend $400.00

if he's only going to use it for a few weeks?

                         

"It's his money," I said. "It's not like it's your’s

and you have to sacrifice.

He's dying, and he wants to know what

time it is. For Christ's sake. Go buy him a watch."

 

So my brother bought him a travel alarm clock

whose digits glowed green in the dark.

Daddy's face. Oh god. His face

when he saw that clock. His eyes

so large and dark in his thin,

thin face.

His disappointment, his dying.

 

"We were afraid to buy one for your wrist,"

I said. "You're so thin. And you throw your arms

against the wall."  

 

It wasn't true. We'd never discussed it.

I wasn't afraid to buy a watch for his wrist.

 

He fell back to the pillow,

closed

his eyes. He knew.

 

I sat in a chair by his bed.

He would wake in the night, sit up suddenly,

ask, "What time is it? Oh, four o'clock.

Is it night?"

 

The day he died, I took that clock,

put it in my pocket.

I made my brother look for it,

made him say, "Where’s that new alarm

clock?  Someone stole it. Someone who

came for the funeral?  One of our friends."

 

I still have that clock. Fifty

years and the screws that held it up,

have fallen out.

It doesn't matter.

                                   I have never wound it.

 

But I often need to know

the time

in the middle of the night.

 

Sometimes I sit up so suddenly from

a dead sleep that I

strain the vertebrae in my neck.

 

And so I write this to tell you

that I said I would have done

anything for my father as he lay

dying.

 

But I didn't move from the chair

by his bed.

 

I was chasing away the angels

who came for his soul and now,

cannot be forgiven for this clock.

Not Easy

I was talking to my father, "Don't

call me 'the kid' anymore.

Not Cisco. No Billy. You know

my name." 

I was fifteen.

Daddy said he knew me,

named me in fact,

held me when I was born,

washed my face in wine,

then drank the wine.

"I know everything about you,"

he said. "From Bee Bop to Elvis to

blouses with small flowers. I was the

first one on this earth to see the mole

in your armpit."

 

I never could tell him about Donny

meeting me at the train

wearing a suit and no socks.

"Where are your rubbers?" I asked him.

He giggled and leaned against the

conductor. "You're not my mother," he said.

In the middle of the sixties,

In the middle of the plains

between

Regina and the Rockies,

Donny dropped acid.

He said it was easy,

that fallacy was spelled "phallusy."

Six months later I tried to explain

to Daddy about acid, mind expansion,

blowing out.

But Daddy kept waiting for Donny to

come back. He talked to him,

sang, imagined looking in his eyes,

waiting.

 

Daddy never called me

'the kid' again.

 

Just outside of Red Deer,

snow driving out of darkness,

a white horse appeared

in our headlights and then went

down.

 

They black-listed Harry Bearkoff

so he couldn't buy booze

in our small town.

He was too proud to ask his friends.

He hung himself

in his kitchen and Daddy cut him down,

laid him down with the belt around his neck,

laid him down in a litter of empty bottles of

vanilla and aftershave lotion.

 

At home, afterwards, Daddy stood at the window,

and shielded his eyes with his hand.

I didn't wonder why he didn't move away from

the brightness. I smeared butter

on the wall, made a spot

that came through every coat of paint.

"It should’ve been easier to

die than that," Daddy said.

I didn't know

there are a lot of ways to die

and you don't always stop

breathing.

 

Not many years later, in a house out

on the edge of the tundra,

he said the morphine made him cold.

He asked for extra blankets.

He said it would be easy.

When you freeze

your blood slushes your veins,

you sleep,

and stop breathing.

 

 

But I think of him now,

whenever I hear a siren,

whenever I hear the words:

shooting up,

shooting star.

 

 

We held him back

blazing

thrashing.

We kept him from falling

out of bed.

He dug holes in the wall

with his fingers.

 

 

Donny and I held Daddy

in his blankets and

flashed through the streets

in an ambulance.

In the hospital, Donny shredded

the sheets between his fingers.

And that night

we shot Daddy down

with morphine.

We let him go.

And it wasn't easy.

Has never been easy.

 

Grand Union

 

 

I have a photo of Daddy

in front of the Grand Union Hotel.

I had dragged him out of the bar.

He stood in the sunlight

blinking.

 

His arms crossed to close me out,

he looks annoyed. He left

a beer on the table.

 

He died a year later, leaving me

with no place to put my feet.

 

He came to me in dreams,

holding out his hands as if to placate me.

 

Twenty years later,

to the day,

to the hour,

I sat on a dock in the sun

watching light flicker over the water.

When I looked up, he walked toward me,

wearing his suit,

his hat with a feather in the brim.

 

He holds his hands out.

I am still alone,

still stumbling for a footing

but I am not ready to take his hand.

He smiles, and I let him go, again.