Stick Figure published Tahuya in Issue #5, on 3/31/2022.
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
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
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,
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,
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
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
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.
I was talking to my father, "Don't
call me 'the kid' anymore.
Not Cisco. No Billy. You know
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
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,
But Daddy kept waiting for Donny to
come back. He talked to him,
sang, imagined looking in his eyes,
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
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
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,
and stop breathing.
But I think of him now,
whenever I hear a siren,
whenever I hear the words:
We held him back
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
We let him go.
And it wasn't easy.
Has never been easy.
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
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.
The Evening Street Review published Grandmother and Nothing Surprises Her Now in Number 36, Winter 2022 edition, Pages 36 and 37.
Long periods of time go by when I do not
think of you planting peas, in a flowered
dress and gumboots. But I remember
your white shawl with glittering silver threads
hanging on the fence and the crow who always came
to peck at it. Or the way the wind blew ashes
and dust around your face,
framed by wheat fields and Quaking Aspens.
Now I love the color of ripened wheat,
the way the sun glistens on water, and the undersides
of leaves; the way the potatoes mound in the bed
of the truck. And I cry so easily knowing
I am too old for you to be alive.
Nothing Surprises Her Now
Anna dyed her hair cherry red and kept
it permanented until the ends were dead,
gray fuzz. She loved to wear purple.
She carried a little black dog in a smelly blanket,
and kept two balding, sickly birds in the kitchen.
She'd bend toward the cage, over the dog in her arms
and coo at those birds. They'd lost so many feathers
between their eyes and from the tops of their heads
that they always looked surprised.
Anna said she hadn't been surprised since the day
Martin came home from work late
and divorced her.
She had fixed roast beef, made gravy, browned potatoes,
had water boiling for corn she rushed to throw in
when she heard his car door slam. She didn't hear
the witness and lawyer come into the room.
When she turned away from the stove, they waited silently.
All she had to do was sign the papers.
There wasn't much to say in front of those men,
with that corn bubbling on the burner.
She could see Martin felt better as soon as she signed.
She got the house. He got the car. He drove away.
She sat down at the table set for two.
The corn was soggy, the beef and potatoes cold,
the gravy so salty, it made her cough.
The clock ticked loudly all night.
And nothing surprises her