A Poem in Which My Father is Not the Villain
I believe we commit errors we want no one to know about,
that we wish we could bathe and be healed and sip whisky and be clean.
And when the bitter drink hits my tongue—after that first sting—
the first memory returns—
my throat swollen nearly shut with a virus,
my tonsils large as shooter marbles, swollen to touching,
attracting hospital residents who peer into my throat and take notes,
and my father cuts the whisky with water, adding ice.
If it's cold enough, you can't taste it.
Here, and he sets down the glass.
I taste it. Drink it only if you want. It helps, he says.
That very first sting is the one I remember now
thinking of the plate glass restaurant window at Penn Plaza,
allowed to dine with my parents after dark,
staring over my menu at the theatre where we would see a musical,
where I would sit in a red-cushioned seat and swing my legs.
The man outside the window wore a blanket. He pressed his face to the glass.
One blanket against the February night in Washington.
He knocked on the window. My father stood up and shut the blinds.
Something happened then. Perhaps it was relief. Some diners smiled.
Others looked down. I was a child and poverty had been hidden from me
even when it was my own. Before this poem turns my father into the villain,
understand he grew up with the disappeared father, the orphanage,
the lack of money. And maybe shutting that blind becomes shutting out
part of his own life, his hunger, his need. Sometimes you have to shut
something out to believe the lie that everything is fine.
"A Poem in Which My Father is Not the Villain" first appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review.