--THEY SAY DREAMS WON’T DAMAGE YOU, BUT I’M NOT SO SURE ABOUT THAT
…It’s Friday but feels like Saturday. I hardly know what day it is anymore.
…Yesterday I read a friend’s poetry manuscript and gave him some feedback. His writing was wonderful and it put me in the mood to write some poems myself. Also, I just got a batch of my father’s bills in the mail, so that sent me to that place again and, well, this is what came out of it:
Executor of the Will
Bills keep coming through the mail
for my dead father.
They remind me of carpenter ants dancing drunkenly in the sun.
The bank doesn’t want to go without.
The insurance company can’t stand to go without.
Every institution is ravenous and desperate.
You can smell impatience on the envelopes,
a frayed corner here,
a blood smear there.
But it’s not just them.
After we’d buried him,
interested parties kept telling me,
“I know you’ll be fair,”
as if I know what the fuck that means,
as if I’m Bruce Almighty
or the new pope.
I’m telling you,
people are really hungry.
They haven’t eaten in years.
Someone wants to swallow a car,
The other a rifle,
a shiny set of Allen wrenches.
What I think I’ll do is push it all into a pile--
the collection notices and Peterbuilts,
the pyramid of rusted beer cans
and every sin I’ve ever seen.
I’ll burn it all,
throwing Dad’s will in last.
I bet that ash
is going to be the most beautiful ash in the world,
wafting in in the air like a flock of gold coins
just out of reach.
If I can,
I’ll take a picture for you.
Executor of the Will, Part 2
The lawyer eyes me across the desk,
tells me where to sign,
here and there and there, there.
It feels like I’m buying a house.
I hardly remember agreeing to do this,
be the executor of the will,
but Dad’s dead now
and there are people who want things,
even the lawyer,
him with the pointed Chihuahua teeth
that for some reason makes me think of Dad’s fake ones,
plastic jobs faded to the color of lard,
his hands grease-stained and as big as mitts,
hands that did good things and some bad
all those years ago when we were ten kids growing up in a trailer,
the world so big to us,
but no more scary than where we lived,
never knowing if Mother was in a mood,
if Dad would do her bidding,
find the belt,
have us pull down our pants
swing like he was at the Fair trying to win a stuffed bear
for his sweetheart,
the wicked woman he’d married,
a demon damsel
with warts on her heart.
Now as the lawyer yawns
and says, “I think we’re done here,”
I wonder if Dad knew what he was getting into,
or if he compartmentalized love from torture.
If it was the latter,
that makes him one hell-of-a Houdini,
and maybe in the end
that trumps all.
We carry the casket hip high,
all of us looking forward
not wanting to trip
or speak or make eye contact,
old feuds quashed by the death of our father,
and a brother,
all in one week.
In a nearby tree
three black birds list on a limb,
watching us with their necks cocked
as if we’re the most interesting TV show ever,
True Detective, maybe,
We set the casket on rollers
and it aligns perfectly,
the only perfect thing I’ve ever seen
in our family’s imperfect past.
The pastor asks if anyone would like to say a few words
while we stare at our shoes
and the birds fly away
frightened to hear what we confess.
Sins of the Fathers
Here we are, band of brothers,
some former soldiers,
some former felons,
together for a funeral,
the night before,
getting drunk or stoned or both
and it feels right,
maybe a little cowardly,
but who wants to face fear head-on when you can create distractions?
One of these beat me with his fists.
One of these said I would never amount to anything.
One of these taught me how to masturbate.
But it all disappears in the gray smoke
and bawdy jokes being told.
We laugh till we puke
and that, too, feels right and wrong at the same time,
laughing while our dad’s corpse lies in a coffin nearby.
Still, what else can oddballs do
but try to convince themselves
that the sins of the fathers are not passed down,
only buried under ground
until the vespers
call them out of their slumber
and ask for penance.
“You look skinny, hey,” my brother says.
“You’re nothing but a drink of water, hey.”
He’s on something
or else his heart is just beating too fast.
The trailer smells of cigarette smoke and cat piss
with boxes stacked everywhere
as if movers should arrive at any second,
only the boxes are filled with bills and files,
one of them containing the will which I find
while my brother asks, “What’s it say, hey?”
Later we’re at a bar,
this big brood of us,
so many we own the place even if we don’t.
There’s, “Remember the time…”
There’s, “He could be a mean cuss if…”
There’s, “Wanna smoke some pot, hey?”
One brother hands the pipe to the other,
flicks a lighter with his thumb,
and just like that
I recall Pops with a blow torch,
flame the color of orange blossoms,
wearing safety goggles that made him look like a lunatic,
welding metal together the way
he never could our family.
The summer our garage burn down
I was nine and the whole world was on fire:
jilted super Heroes;
volcanoes and drum barrels and lawns with pink Flamingoes.
My mother turned into a blow torch, too.
Her wig and cat-eyed glasses were a disguise,
clever props meant to trick you up
like a bear trap covered with moss.
Same with the thick white Bible kept on the mantle
by the gun rack and leather belt
that lashed out punishment.
I gave her as wide a berth as possible
but could still feel her flames
licking my face.
On Father’s Day
Dad drank to celebrate,
shooting an arrow through the window,
shards of glass clattering in the sink like tinny applause.
Mom said, “That’s it. That’s it. We’re leaving. To hell with you.”
her not understanding the hell she’d created.
In the car were we frightened mice,
holding quiet our chattering.
Our mother called us cowards,
said she wished we’d never have been born,
snapped her fingers and raised a spark,
said, “Say a word and you’ll wish you were already dead.”
in a car with my own kids,
I check for them in the rearview,
see them with their heads bent down,
mesmerized by phones.
I say, “Hey guys. I love you so much.”
None of them acknowledges me,
still I add, “Please don’t ever leave me.”
My brother started grass fires
the summer he realized there was no way out,
no proper future,
our future sutured by the past,
time stuck in quicksand
He burned acres
while cackling like a demon.
Head raised toward heaven,
he shouted, “How about them apples?”
The police showed up at our trailer
A few hours later--
serious, and unfriendly men
with badges and warrants--
but my brother had run away by then
with Mom saying, “Good riddance.”
My therapist runs a pen tip along his lower lip,
eyes narrowed to slits.
“And how did that make you feel?” he asks.