Today I touched my father's tombstone
with the flat of my hand, as if he were merely
feverish and not dead, not underground
here in the Sequatchie River Valley.
I picture him back home at the kitchen table,
trying to hear a Benny Goodman record
through thick headphones, leaning forward,
nursing a Stroh's and a travel magazine
or standing at the stove, stirring a saucepan,
heating up new maple butter to pour out
on the snow in pretzel-shaped candy,
a Lucky Strike dangling from his lips.
I picture him stumbling down the stairs
drunk, cursing in sign language, mean,
smashing things at the workbench,
breaking windows with his hammer.
I see him throwing his keys at my mother's apron,
firing off a rifle, pocking the fridge. I see
his head in the back of a disappearing squad car
as my mother clings to the doorframe.
For years there was small news of him:
the clocks he fixed, a new wife, an address
somewhere in California. Then the checks arrived,
federal, the death benefit received.
Now I am sixty. Odd, how blood is thicker
than memory. After months of searching, I find him.
I come to this field to hear the summer scrum
of a mower in the distance, to brush the cuttings away.
AFTER HE LEAVES
Right about now, eight months later,
I imagine my ex- at his kitchen table,
listening to the radio in his underwear and socks.
His shoulders stoop slightly, his frame
weathered but not bent. He rests his chin
in the palm of his hand, nodding now and then.
A song comes on and he thinks he'd like to dance,
to take a turn around the living room, down the hall,
only there's no true love to put his arms around,
no one with whom he might lift a glass,
digest the news or who could cause his heart
to quicken in that massive chest.
Right about now, I imagine him doodling
or filling in the spaces of a crossword puzzle,
filling in the gaps with a woman here and there
who will delight him for about as long as it takes
to change the sheets which he will launder
and hang to dry, flapping from a stretched line
while here at home I whip up lemon tarts,
rosemary roasted potatoes, chicken and
raspberry jam, coffee from Arabica beans
ground in the Cuisinart he bought last November.
Its gears and blades growl in sharp precision,
the grind spilling into a plastic cup I wash
while listening to the radio without static,
a clear signal to dance to on a starlit night
and I will nestle in fresh sheets, mid-bed, content.
Standing at the great desk, Hawthorne
must have looked out these windows.
I stand in his treads, place my elbows
in the wells his created, imagine my pen
flowing with indigo ink. Leather boots.
Old kid gloves and a feather in my hat.
My poet's shirt flows in gathered folds
of muslin, open at the neck. Which pages
were kept, which thrown to the fire?
My black dog lies at my feet, soaks
up the praise I bestow, waiting to know
when we'll descend the lofty steps
to play in the snow. I pose a while longer,
then snap the leash and whistle.