Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Poem as a Daughter


Father’s day comes,
and the girls sit tribunal at the table.

Dad cooks
pancakes flip as his answers.

We hold our cards
spread evenly in our hands

anger anted, poker-faced

Dad’s being bad again.
He’s not hurting us;
he’s hurting himself,
but it’s more important than we are,
and that hurts.

See, he’s not having sex,
but he’s thinking about it.
Not even thinking about it, really,
but categorizing his experiences,
removing the guilt from his hands
his body from the act
his mind from his family
but mostly, from memory.

It’s just a database –
clinical rows and columns –
organized, precise,
but the boxes fill with names,
body parts,
and each of the rows is numbered.

He adds to it obsessively –
purging and enshrining his memories,
catching himself and his past and his acts
in double and triple binds.

Maybe he told them all he loved them.
Maybe number 49 loved him back.
She wondered on nights alone
what she and her son would fix him
for breakfast when he could finally stay over,
what they would buy him
for the first birthday that passed.
She didn’t know she was just
an aggregate of columns and trivia,
defined by size, interest, and preference.
He never could remember her son’s name,
and he never even gave him a number.

He couldn’t remember our names, either,
but we did retain our birth order.
We conformed perfectly
to the expectations of
eldest, middle, and youngest child
of broken homes.
We excelled to excess,
but we could never make his list.

It is not tempting
to wonder how hard it was for him
not to think of us as women with bodies.
I try not to embrace the irony
of complaining now that he can’t see me
as a woman –
as the woman I am in the world.

It is hard enough for him
to imagine a connection to me
as his daughter
as though he still has time
when the counting’s done
to lay his cards on the table.

Daddy doesn’t take drugs,
but he’s an addict.

His pancakes taste good,
but they always fall flat.

We keep dealing him in,
but all he plays is solitaire.

His daughters are always hungry,
waiting for him to feed them.

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