The water my father aches for
is not the tap water run cold
into a glass, though his tongue
is chalky after so many days without;
not the spring bubbling up clear as if
there were no impurities in these green fields.
He has turned away from that water
for the little time that remains, though his mouth
puckers with its own dryness.
The water of his desire is that bay
you can see in the distance,
where a sailboat is tied up at the dock—
the boat he dreamed of through his years
in a country of hills and small creeks.
Now the mainsail is set to be raised
and the wind smells of salt, ropes coiled
ready to his hand, dock line
loosed from the cleat.
Worried Playground Daddy’s Blues
On the playground I strum guitar while my daughter
dangles upside down from the bar above the tall slide,
and inside my middle-aged brain a movie
plays: the pop-art radiance of ambulance lights,
then the cold eye of a weary doctor who rubs
the bridge of his nose and glances back
at the darkly cloaked hospital chaplain
before clearing his throat to speak.
Enough of that, I say. I don’t want you
to hurt yourself. Trying to sound composed
when what I mean is I love you please
don’t die on me the way my mother did.
Something about Missouri in November,
the trees so recently vacant of leaves.
That and another bad triglycerides reading
have me on high alert,
but then, I hear we’ve all gone half-insane
with protectiveness, and I believe it,
can remember how Mom let us roam freely
the trailer park and the thick woods,
how we skipped alongside passing Amtraks,
checking in only for Kool-Aid and ham sandwiches.
God, I wish I could go back, take her by the shoulders,
look her in the eyes and say come on, just pay attention,
not at all for those sweet dangers she permitted us
but because our time was already evaporating.
[first published in Lascaux Review; lead poem in American Ephemeral]
There Are No Orphans in this Town
Our houses are facsimiles
free of history.
They do not yet know porch
They cannot recall segregation,
women penned in typing pools
or doctors smoking at work.
Prefab, they’re called,
boxed like model airplanes.
Just assemble onsite, add glue.
Here no one mentions the fathers
suffocating in whiskey after work,
the mothers who borrow their children’s
Ritalin to face the day, or the children
who shrink into their bedrooms
from bullies. Our secrets are stars,
cat eyes flashing under the cover of night.
Every sunset glossing purple
bruises concealed under sleeves.
Our suits and dresses are freshly pressed
for church, our hair always in place.
There are no orphans in this town
where tomorrow’s always ripe,
children sorted by manufacture date.
Our polished mailboxes sit exactly
eighteen inches from the curb,
though we never read anything
the mailman delivers.