I watch my tennis shoes
I had painted white
as they step down the sidewalk,
a Catholic school girl on her way to school
in the late Spring
heat, when I pass a tavern,
the door held open by an ashcan
and cigarettes and bleach
stain the air.
I peak into the darkness
knowing he’s in there,
my father, hunched on a stool
in a foggy haze I imagine
his smell, his brown striped shirts
his long jeans faded at the knees
Is he still shy and scared? He’s
blue eyes magnified in his brown
goggle glasses, the sweeping lashes
my Aunt says I have his eyes
and it makes my chest hurt.
I hear the scrape of metal
across the floor and I take off
in my pleated skirt a size too big
and forget I was ever there.
Eleven years later
I find him at another tavern
across town, hunched over
a beer. Haven’t talked to him
in years. My stomach flits,
I sit down next to him,
“Hi, dad,” and he turns,
the same eyes
blinking at me. It takes him
a second. “Hi, you!” and his
face lights up like a child.
He hugs me and with my arms
around him in his brown striped shirt
I smell him and again
the chest pain
“I love you, how’ve you been?”
and somehow he knows everything
“See? See Vern? I tolds ya I had
kids,” he boasts to the bartender,
and he pulls out his old
wallet and takes out
three pictures of my sisters and I,
aged three, four, and five—
the last year he had us.
“I keep these in my wallet here,
so’s I can look at you’s.”
I have a beer with my daddy.
There was no past or future there,
we were just blood relatives
having a beer, wishing for so much
from each other and not knowing
what that was.