At Junior’s Bar & Grill I flirt with my father’s
murderer, not for the first or last time.
The aftertaste of a killer is intoxicating–
less than half an hour in the dark and I’m his
until I come up with a reason to stop asking for more.
I run my thumb gently along his lip and bring it
to my own as strangers side-step around us.
Despite how it may look to the bartender
I’m taking it slow, swirling the evening around,
breathing in its body. By midnight I abandon my family history.
I slide my tongue down his homicidal neck,
bringing every drop of him into me
like I’m on the brink of dehydration, lost in the desert
of my own tipsy grief. Cold hand over wet mouth,
we sway to the jukebox that accepts credit cards but no cash.
We oxidize, grow stale, keep up the charade until it’s over
and when it’s over, it’s really over. Like a headache, his
presence kneads at my skin, changes my chemistry even
as I pull away. & when I do, I’m still left with the residual sugar
of our affair, settled on the bottom of a glass that I push
between my palms. I attempt to read its pattern as though it
can predict the future. Death by choking? Death by genetics?
How will I know when it’s over?
I don’t have sympathy for THE FATHER
but I do have sympathy for Jeffrey,
who eventually became THE FATHER.
Freckles lined his arms like hundreds
of black holes, leading into the darkest
dark. Jeffrey was water-logged but couldn’t
swim, metaphorically. THE FATHER, on
the other hand, would clear seaweed away
from the beach in front of his parent’s house
every summer. THE FATHER never complained
about hard work. But I don’t want to talk about
THE FATHER. Tonight, I’m thinking of Jeff.
Jeff was colorblind and drove an awful green car
for a decade, not realizing it hurt to look at.
Jeff’s adolescence revolved around wanting
to be loved, and here I go again. Fixating
on the way we wanted the same things,
how we happily continued the cycle.
25 years have taught me how to compartmentalize.
How to bury the keys when I can’t bear to think
anymore and I can’t bear it so I just live through it instead.
He was Jeffrey
then THE FATHER
and briefly he became Jeff again, alone,
in the seconds after he stopped breathing.
Jeff is what they called him on the phone.
He died himself. He was not THE FATHER.
He was a man that chased desire, that could not
give me a future because it was so similar
to his own reflection. He was a man that knew
I hated seaweed against my bare legs.
Who died without red, or green. He was a man.
He was my father.
He was Jeff, and then,
he was everything,
2017, AS I REMEMBER IT
My father hasn’t been seen in weeks.
Every few days or so, like a good daughter,
I hang a bag of groceries on his doorknob.
Bread. Peanut Butter. Chicken noodle soup.
The bags disappear into a black hole and I
report my findings. Nobody wants
to say that my father has started drinking
again, least of all me who suspects he never
stopped. Three weeks ago the only former
alcoholic I know told me he wasn’t ready for
a sober, romantic relationship. I call my father
and he doesn’t answer. I text my ex and
ask for advice and he does answer. Have you
ever held a man that just lost yet another
person to a drink? I have been the holder and the held.
Tonight, I am the person that remembers.
My father unlocks the door and his fridge is
full of rot. He is living on a bloodstained couch.
My father does not believe himself to be an
alcoholic. My ex believes in something bigger
than me and I hate him for it. My ex tells me over
the sound of Rick & Morty that he’s scared
of step eight and I am nineteen so I console him
in the wrong way. I can’t leave anything alone.
My father tells me that he’s fine, as he falls asleep
in the middle of our conversation. I leave and cry into the
steering wheel, not because my father is dying
but because the only person that could possibly
understand me is somewhere else, forgetting
more and more of my body with every second.
Like a good daughter, I remember everything.
I text my ex. He doesn’t answer.
Caitlin Conlon is a poet and avid reader from Upstate New York. She has a BA in English and a Creative Writing Certificate from the University At Buffalo and, while there, was chosen for the Friends of the University Libraries Undergraduate Poetry Prize, and the Arthur Axlerod Memorial Prize for Poetry. She has previously been published with Up The Staircase Quarterly and Rust + Moth, among others. Her debut poetry collection, The Surrender Theory, was released in 2022 with Central Avenue Publishing. You can find her online almost anywhere @cgcpoems.
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