When you tell stories about your father
Hopping trains, you leave out any mention
Of the snake with ball bearings in its mouth,
Or the bird made out of cherry blossoms
Tossing it’s head like it is seizing
From going days without booze in the hotel.
You don’t talk about finding the floor wet before
You have even had the chance to unpack.
You distinguish the scent as sweat,
As his. You feel him everywhere, your father,
Generous with how he annotated his volumes
About the civil war and all the theories
About Kennedy and his head, breaking apart like a bad pie,
Like a crow pecking at it while it’s on the windowsill,
Harpooning a loaf of bread, drawing the scene up on the easel
With those same convenient colors, as he remembered
Seeing it on the news when he was a boy washing dishes
At the diner.
You worry about giving your mother a compliment she could never forget,
Nothing about how she sews or cleans. She knows,
But about how you don’t wake up the same in the morning
Without her voice, aging like she did, aging like she did every morning,
Gravel falling into her throat from nowhere like
A shovelful of rocks into the pond.
She sifts flower with her silver rings on leaving little shards
Like grape seeds in the dough. Dropping the eggshells on the floor
For the dog to gnaw on. He is startled by horses, their beauty,
How they take so much to maintain, and he takes nothing,
Faking a limp then stopping when your father corners him
With the gun. You and the dog respond to threats the same.
When your mother was pregnant with you, she thought she was pregnant
With a hedgerow full of birds. Your father took her hands in his
And reassured that it was a panicking cluster of onions and hair,
A tumbleweed and a potholder, never a child.
Your father taught you to swim in the bathtub.
You flooded the bathroom and he yelled faster, faster
While you smacked the water with an open hand,
A hand still is a fist to you, your hand was born a fist,
A spade to dig with later, find the potatoes and be as rough
As you want with them, not like tomatoes that grow
In the hot part of the garden, watered by your father with the hose
He sprays you with while you stroke, your stomach flat on the deck,
And he screams faster, faster, taking off his shirt to join you
So you could finally see the hundred places where he was pierced.
Erik Carlsen is a Tacoma native and graduate of Pacific Lutheran University.