Thursday, April 17, 2014

To My Dad on His 80th Birthday

Click here, then read.

The memories of us mean the most,
doing Dinos—our flying act—on the living room floor,
my belly on the flat of your foot.  Sometimes you let go
of my hands.  That was the scary part.
You always caught me.

Sitting on your knee after your workday and supper,
we would draw-draw pigs and dogs, simple creatures.
I would climb onto your lap for that, my head of curls
pressed against your bristly chin.
Always a pen and paper in your pocket.

The place where we lived was sandy and windy.
I would bury my face into your collar
on the dunes, while everyone else played.
Church was another place you saved me:
you let me draw-draw behind you in the choir loft while you sang.
You let me pick my nose and eat my boogers
underneath your own nose.  You held me in your arms
and never complained.

Snowshoes, winter picnics—hotdogs and marshmallows.
You always had us looking for the right stick.  At six,
I didn’t know that I would be marching out of the woods one day
with a deer liver and heart on a forked branch,
my brethren dragging the carcass behind me.

To me, it was always Christmas.

The first black man you ever introduced me to
gave me a velour bag full of polished stones.
They were all keepers.
Our family language then included the question:
“Is this a keeper or not?”

My best times in life have been bringing you
rocks and stones and shells, sometimes pieces of wood,
asking you, “Is this a keeper?”

Your answers were always fifty-fifty.

You remember the railroad ties in the back yard;
you built a garden.
You knocked down a barn stall
to make us a basketball court.
The first gun you gave me to shoot
was a muzzle loader. 

Dancing with you was always a pleasure;
I’m glad Mom trained you in this way.
“I’ll lead,” you always said to me
as I tried to relax in your arms
from 1968 to now.

It is rare to see you laugh, although you are my first person
to people-please. 
I remember when I first saw you painting
something other than the wall of a house.

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