Boy, you’re tailor-made for prison,
my father said when I was ten and stole
a candy bar. I challenged the comment
every time I showed him straight A’s
in English. He said, Too bad your
grades stink in science. I assembled
model cars, painted them candy-apple
colors. He said, Those toys are for babies.
You get high from that glue? I wondered
why he treated me that way, whether he
hated himself and me. He whipped
me often with his studded leather belt.
I asked him why. To make you a man.
I said, Did your father beat you worse
than you beat me? He said, Shut your
trap. I lingered for decades as he played
catch with my nephews, offered them gifts
I never received. You look like a monkey
fucking a football, he said when I fixed flats
at his station. One November I refused
to listen any longer. We spent that last
election day debating. Who was the better
man? Win or lose, I said, Dukakis, but I
was wrong. My father gloated. We argued
like two lousy lawyers with no facts,
called each other fool, son of a bitch,
motherfucker. He boomed, LEAVE!
I slammed the door to smother his voice.
My girlfriend said, Don’t be a prodigal.
I wasn’t. If I relented, he’d welcome me back.
I’d have no future, a cynic repeating
his mistakes. But I wanted light, promised
myself never to see him again. He thought
I’d crawl back, head bowed, lick the hardwood
so Daddy’d forgive. When I didn’t, he asked
if I’d take $1000 to make amends. I hung up,
yelled, Leave me alone. He tried to hire
a mechanic to jump me. The man laughed.
A priest called. Reconcile with your dad.
I epiphanied, No, that my father wanted
to twist his father’s hate knife into me
a last time. One forgiving day I drove
to his house. Tossing a baseball to his
sister’s boy, he called my cousin Son.
I decided—recalling the one time he told
me, I love you—not to return, said,
He’ll never hurt me again, and sent a note:
We’re gasoline and matches. Goodbye.
Six months later I learned he died in vomit,
consumed with bile. Sometimes I pass
his empty yard and remember him saying,
A real man never breaks a promise.
David Spicer is a former medical journal proofreader. He has published poems in Santa Clara Review, Synaeresis, Chiron Review, Remington Review, unbroken, Third Wednesday, CircleStreet, The Bookends Review, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Yellow Mama, The Midnight Boutique, and elsewhere. Nominated for a Best of the Net three times and a Pushcart once, he is author of one full-length poetry collection, Everybody Has a Story (St. Luke's Press) and six chapbooks, the latest of which is Tribe of Two (Seven CirclePress). His new full-length collection of poems, Waiting for the Needle Rain, is forthcoming from Hekate Publishing. His website is www.davidspicer76.com
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