--THE SCALE OF AFFECTION IS FLUID
First Visit After Divorce
Reasons for living
never come cheap
is what my daughter tells me in the car
on the way home from the airport,
her fidgeting and
smelling of incense.
When I ask if she smoked on the plane
she calls me ridiculous,
dropping an F bomb.
I angle the rearview to
She’s as thin as rain
wearing a nose ring
and dreadlocks that look like
coils of dingy pillow stuffing.
I’ve missed her,
but now that she’s here I realize I’ve missed the daughter I had before,
the one who hugged my knees and called me Daddy,
who asked to be read a story or poem,
asked a million questions about anything and everything.
This young woman beside me seems a stranger,
She’s silent for a spell,
then tells me she changed,
changed for the better,
that she’s never going back
and I’d better get used to it.
At the restaurant she pushes lettuce leaves back and forth
across her plate, making windshield wiper motions.
She only eats a sprig of parsley.
She says she wants to see her mother now.
She says I should stop pretending to be somebody I’m not
and that it would be best for everyone involved if I
burned in hell.
The rain is tilting its head like a lover badly needing a kiss.
A buoy bobs on the lake surface
faded bubble gum pink, something that might make for a clown’s nose.
On the shore we sit hunched in our slickers,
brother and sister,
waiting out the storm
going on inside our camper,
studying the ferocious weather,
how it does what it wants,
violently and selfishly,
heaving and tossing windy punches,
mangling the water’s surface like a bed sheet,
leaving the sky bruised and plum-colored,
all of it mesmerizing,
a wonderful distraction
while knowing none of it will do real harm.
Fight of the Century
It was the year Ali fought Frazier for the first time,
my brother home from the war, a bald eagle tattooed across his back,
something unsteady in his eyes
that reminded me of a comet shifting through fog.
Plumes of cigarette smoke fondled the ceiling
in the basement where a TV blared at the end of the padded bar,
a room of men with their jokes and husky coughing and musky odors.
I was twelve and having my first beer.
“Before the fight starts, tell us a story about Nam,” one of them asked.
On the television Smokin’ Joe had just come out of his dressing room,
Ali was air kissing the camera,
and a riot was overtaking my heart.
I watched my brother reach for the fifth of bourbon,
his fingers trembling,
his eyes on the move again.
“Come on, tell us!”
My brother took a swig that burned and refilled.
He thought for a moment, then said, “First, we killed all the children,”
while everyone laughed at that,
confusing fact with fiction,
horror with humor,
utterly unable to consider the unthinkable.
As if seeing through a cloudy prism,
my brother took in his friends’ tittering, their circus smiling faces,
before raising his glass to
the lemon-yellow bar light.
“To the fight,” he said
as everyone cheered.
Tonight I am nostalgic for the Cold War
and women with pubic hair,
David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Bobby Sherman,
TV’s with antennas but no remote,
Dad tousling my long, feathered hair, calling me Sally, Flower Child,
saying, “Since when do you wear a necklace?”
the gold, love seat with wooden handles that my parents lounged on,
naked or not,
naked or not,
our still-alive dog, Pepper, curled at their feet
while cigarette smoke plumed against the wood-panelling in broad tufts
as Johnny Cash walked the line
and I watched awake
my life crisping,
fear lurking like a water moccasin below the surface.
It’s a silly thing to do,
insane in a way, actually,
wanting to go back,
revert to such a broken, palsied yesteryear,
but maybe I’m like the spouse who,
still stays each morning,
frying eggs over a ripe-red stove,
somehow trained to bear it all,
bewildered yet trying to make sense of fate
and all the horrors
drizzled in between.