Our best clothes flapped in the breeze as Dad spun us round and round
flapped like the American flag that promised freedom to all
but reconsidered and forced my father away,
sucked him into an ocean that looked like the end of the world.
The end of my world, it seemed.
When he left we wore those clothes again
and again they would flap rebelliously against heavy starch
in the dusty, dirty harbor that forced tan grime into the creases
of his bright white bell-bottom uniforms and the stiff sailor hats he left us
with faded black stencil numbers and letters; indecipherable, mysterious codes.
His eyes were the color of the sky, and the ocean that lent it the shade,
deep and cloudy, damp and cold with coming rain.
The nylon pinched his broad shoulders and big arms
when he picked us each up for our great big, too-short last hug.
The pokey little strips of colorful rank pins caught the lace at my collar.
And the earth approached as he put me back down again, like it was the first I’d felt gravity.
He was gone and out came mom’s friends in their gossamer scarves and too much make-up
“Parties” she called them, and they’d all fill the living room to sell whatever they sold.
They wore rings like finger-armor, defending their tasteful clutch purses,
grasped with their boney, puckery fingers, like we might snatch them away at any moment.
We sat in the dining room for what felt like hours, quietly playing cards,
the four of us full of contempt, encircling the snacks we’d helped prepare for them,
but weren’t to touch (She’d counted).
Today Dad’s slouching in our squeaky, dumpy computer chair,
at the masterpiece he’s creating out of electricity and longing.
His back’s faced to me as he says He loves me too, five seconds off cue.
We’re going to build a forge out back, and a spinning wheel and underground kiln
We’re going to build furniture and art and money from what the earth gave us
The heat and the soil and all those things that keep him grounded.
Mom’s at the door, beaming, just dripping with miss you’s
and I know we don’t always get along so well, but’s
pressing like an Egyptian wall-crushing trap.
And I can remember my own love and longing, all those years ago,
back in that harbor, with her big hand firm on my shoulder,
when that ship, larger than a whale I’d seen at a museum with him
slid away, across the shimmer of grey that looked weightless and unreal
through the dream-sequence effect of too many tears, too much salt,
too many seagulls squawking the gratitude I couldn’t to all those men.
Rows of white polyester, flapping in the fishy, thick breeze.
So close you could touch them
but to this day I can’t reach that far.