Seeing Francis

I saw him at Target, wearing the red vest, collecting the shopping carts.

He looked familiar, but no, couldn’t be– his hair was salted with gray.

And then I remembered my own hair.

 

He ran on the cross country team back in high school, and so did I.

He had special needs.

(In one way or another, don’t we all?)

He smiled big, always, and he walked and ran on his toes.

He seemed to forgive people very easily their derisive laughter.

 

I paid for my household items, pushing my daughters ahead of me in the cart.

I wanted to say hi, but my heart sped up and I didn’t know my approach, and my moment slipped away in the crowd of shoppers.

I was left alone with the memories of the crunch of gravel under our team’s thudding feet, and the scent of overripe orchards that we breathed, in-in-out, as we ran the roads of small-town Danville in the mid 1980’s.

All of it,

those moments and miles stringing from

my forgotten corners,

seemed to go up

like the shushing of sprinklers

arcing over the football field

and evaporating into the September heat.

 

 

Advice for Emotional Safety

Don’t expect much.  Look at the cement sidewalk.  Keep your eyes on that.  When you forget, and your glance catches the big paper moon rising behind the telephone lines at the playground, ignore the sense of wonder stirring under your ribs.  Late November, when the leaves whip around the street, and the shagginess of the branches throughout the neighborhood speaks of some kind of important process that is going on, do not try to name that process.

Speak to Me, Dad


I long to smell my dad again,

a freshly lit match,

faint sulphur and burn

and new cigarette smoke.

          We never had the chance

          to say goodbye.

I hear his gleeful, high

Heee Heeeeee!  and rush

of shout-talking,

while he sits with one ankle

propped up on the other knee

and twirls the curl

on his forehead

with his fingers.

          His hair had turned

          from dark brown

  to mostly gray.

I see him

leaning forward

from the waist,

striding

toward the stadium

with a baseball program

sticking halfway out

of his back pocket.

          He scored each inning

          with a pencil stub

          on the scorecard 

          against his knee,

          while cracking peanuts from their shells and

          jiggling them around in his palm

         before siphoning them into his mouth

          and muttering about the radio

          announcers’ remarks that he listened

          to through one earphone.

          Meanwhile he reached way back underneath his seat

          periodically for his plastic cup of beer.  

If only he could

tie the shoes of

my girls.

Shake my

husband’s hand.

Call me on the

phone.

          We met for a beer once

          and laughed about the time

          we got lost on a backpacking

          trip.  We had to hitch a ride back

          to our car with a man and woman in 

          their van.  As it turns out, they

          were arguing about whether

          or not they should pick us up.

          She was against it, apparently.

In the days after his death,

I went out to the garage

and I buried my face

in his dark green

fleece jacket,

breathing deeply,

all my senses

seeking his essence.

          And lo, 

          a fat baby bird

          landed by the open

          garage door and 

          hopped 

          close to me,  

          chirping,

          whistling,

          delicately

          inquiring,

          assuring,

          up and down,

          head cocked,

          a whole conversation. 

          It was my dad,

          speaking comfort

          to me.