A Fatherís Way
A Fatherís Way
I chew my lip, the bottom left side
and see you reclined on yellow velvet
throne greasy beneath patched hair
rustling pages or sleeping breath
quiet to the women, mother and daughter
who wait for crumbs at the feet of blank stares
two lost in worship, not hope
afraid to know how love roots
and feeds the tree when seeds die
hours lost in the curve of the ceiling
dreaming you might hold out your treasure
just once when you were home
hours watching knife eyes not see
the wide frowns turned upside-down
two women waiting
mother on pins and needles
hemming red flower dresses, one big, one small
next to Barbie and her airplane
soaring on a houndstooth sky
your shadow eclipsing all light
voices faint beside
the family photographs
guarding like a wagon circle
in the wilderness of nighttime
a mantle of colors we could point to
neat, manageable squares
to dust every Friday night when you went out
and we werenít alone anymore
without you father
reclining farther into your chair
biting your lip halfway to the left
I walk by the bakery and it smells like my mother
it smells like my mother in spring
frosted bunny cupcakes in basket grass
robins-egg blue outlining my lips
it smells like my mother in summer
cream horns on hot black upholstery
waxpaper sticky between my fingers
it smells like my mother in fall
birthday cakes with ballerinas twirling on roses
strawberries sandwiched between layers
it smells like my mother in winter
Christmas cutouts---santa and snowmen sprinkled
red green, some with red hots for eyes.
I walk by the bakery and it smells like my mother lingering
finger on her mouth, buying me what she wanted
so she didnít feel the guilt, it smells like my mother suffering
with the shakes as she called it, her excuse for needing
a little fudge before going on, smells like her screaming
inside not out, fat terrors around her smile
her pulling at her waistband.
I walk by the bakery and it smells like the loathing
she carried away in white bags and pink boxes
sometimes only as far as the car, smells
like the comfort she found at the sight of glass counters.
I walk by the bakery and it smells like a little girl
learning not to think about the things that happen
it smells like her discovering how donuts
blur the thoughts and take the pictures out of focus
smells like a child whoís inherited the truth but still must lie.
I walk by the bakery and it smells like me hiding
cinnamon roll in one hand, calorie book in the other
so no one had to know, it smells like me begging
for someone to ask why I had no control or too much.
I walk by the bakery and it smells like me dying.
She scribbles "I love kittens" on her notebooks
wears hearts on the ends of her braids
knows that Laura Ingles Wilder is God
a tiny sapphire behind hard glass
she is beautiful and strong and good
all shiny and clean for the world to adore.
Who but her could see the dirt in her veins
the failure stalking, reminding that life is a secret
masked by straight As and Neapolitan ice cream.
She plays girl scout, cheerleader, dishwasher.
She pastes on a happy face for the mother
who takes her to school in a yellow Porsche
the father who whisks her to McDonalds in a red one
a family, they eat hamburger pie on Mondays
Spam on Thursdays, they pay the bills
in the shoe boxes every other month
she imagines they are the Bradyís.
But her insides are lichen on the picket fence
mold strung from the alter
where she dies in her sleep
hovering above the limp nightgown.
But look, now sheís a ballerina riding
bareback through polka dots
cookies dangling from every finger
frosting dripping from her mouth
the fairy princess rescued from the monster
whose footsteps live in the light below her door.
Itís okay, she says through her tutu
everything will be good tomorrow
when daddy sits down for scrambled eggs and ketchup
newspapers above his coffee
all laughter and nice
the monster gone
the sun shining.
Slip of a thing, such baby little wrists
hold the weapon against them.
Power in her fork, she neednít do a thing
she has the world managed
narrowed to the scoop of a toilet bowl
where she is herself again
when the nights grow louder
and beg to be thrown out somehow.
She is the cake-box in the pantry
the casserole in the cookbook
and she knows cheesecake is food not attitude.
Never mind what they say about her
she understands who she is
why she cooks to make them fatter.
No more pumpkin belly
pear hips, marshmallow arms
because she is control
she will stop before it happens again
before someone unzips her pants
and takes more. She has to disappear
like a woman, but not.
Barely fourteen, she winds electrical tape
three times around the growing knots in her chest
She takes out a rolling pin
from behind her stuffed animals
and rolls it fifty times
against the backs of her legs
like thigh dough
slimming with a technique
she discovered while clipping
recipes in Womanís Day.
She layers herself with tights
baggy pants, wool in Los Angeles.
She sneaks two lettuce leaves
from the crisper and bites one slowly
tucks the other between Algebra I
and The Great USA, 1652-1970.
After school, she does sit ups, push ups, chin ups.
She runs, she bikes, she cleans.
Flesh-eating smell lurks from her lips
as she assures everyone she ate today
confident, knowing theyíre afraid
to notice even if sheís not.
Sheís got bigger things on her mind
like Rubenís widening mirror
and a waistband two fists extra instead of three.
The blond puff at the edge of her torso
thickens and tells her sheís cheating.
But she keeps trying.
Her butt aches on cushions
bile burns sores into her tongue.
Her ribs cascade
her bones clank
her teeth chatter.
Barely moving, she distances herself
from the blood on her panties
drying up forever this time
dislodged from the moon
her grandmothers brought into the night sky
that traitorous moon who watched
through her bedroom window
and did nothing
Sheís not starving
she just wants to make sugar cookies
and sprinkle them with rainbows.
She just wants to stay alive
even if it kills her.
With you, sex was without clothes but never naked.
it was the black behind my eyelids reaching nowhere
without you, forehead pressed to flannel, butt high
your forearms muffling the unborn babies crying in my ears.
It was patterns in stucco, box, cross, swastika, witch hat
French toast for breakfast, the bills we couldnít pay
a place to hide while your head rolled from side to side.
Sex was your throat growl and the snarl of your lip biting itself
though no blood ever flowed. Your hands holding mine
over my head and off your face, your legs
mashing me into a writhing torso
two holes to cart around like your weekend six pack.
I was the arching back, the pillowed hair, the kiss and pout
of your Playboy, only I didnít have an airbrush to turn you on.
All those times, those nights without lights, days without looking
those loveless months of I love you
you were the tombstone of my memory
you were the father I could not remember.
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