Sebastian Matthews

Buying Wine

When we were boys, we had a choice: stay in the car or else
follow him into Wine Mart, that cavernous retail barn,


down aisle after aisle — California reds to Australian blends
to French dessert wines — past bins loaded like bat racks


with bottles, each with its own heraldic tag, its licked coat
of arms, trailing after our father as he pushed the ever-filling cart,


bent forward in concentration, one hand in mouth stroking
his unkempt mustache, the other lofting up bottles like fruit


then setting them down, weighing the store of data in his brain
against the cost, the year, the cut of meat he’d select at the butcher’s:


a lamb chop, say, if this Umbrian red had enough body to marry,
to dance on its legs in the bell of the night; or some scallops maybe,


those languid hearts of the sea, a poet’s dozen in a baggy,
and a Pinot Grigio light enough not to disturb their salty murmur.


Often, we’d stay in the car until we’d used up the radio
and our dwindling capacity to believe our father


might actually “Just be back,” then break free, releasing
our seatbelts, drifting to the edges of the parking lot like horses


loosed in a field following the sun’s endgame of shade; sometimes
I’d peer into the front window, breath fogging the sale signs,


catching snippets of my father’s profile appearing and disappearing
behind the tall cardboard stacks. Once I slipped back into the store,


wandering the aisles, master of my own cart, loading it to bursting
for the dream party I was going to throw. But mostly, like now,


as I search for the perfect $12 bottle, I’d shuffle along, dancing bear
behind circus master, and wait for my father to pronounce, tall


in his basketball body, wine bottles like babies in his hands, “Aha!”



“Buying Wine” was first published in The Virginia Quarterly Review.