My Father



My father wakes me gently

It’s early.  Too early to even call it a morning
“Get dressed” he whispers as the day’s events seep back into my mind
We drive for what seems like hours to stop and have breakfast as the sun rises
Eggs that look like big yellow clouds and chocolate milk that’s colder than snow.
The air in the field is as still as a statue but ready to explode with the slightest movement
“Always point your gun down” my father tells me
I nod that I understand but it’s the weight of it in my arms that guarantees my obedience
We pause as my father silently points and I raise my barrel
My heartbeat is shaking my eyes so I close one of them to minimized the confusion
I chart out the path and pull the trigger
Gunpowder escapes in every direction like frantic inmates in a prison break
It sounds like the plate that our waitress dropped that morning had just shattered on my shoulder and everyone had stopped to see what had happened
But this time the applause was not from the inconsiderate truckers,
It was from my father.

My alarm sounds; it’s early.

A sliver of smell leads me downstairs like a cartoon character floating after an apple pie
Breakfast is ready but the coffee pot is already half empty and my father’s big red bible is open on the table, so I know that he’s been up for a while
We load the buckets and scaffolding into the truck and my dormant muscles beg me to sit back down
As we drive, my father’s coffee battles to escape it’s round prison and give in to gravity’s call, but like a juggler, he always manages to keep his hand in the right place
We measure out the paper into even lengths, the cold razor perched between my lips
Measure, pull, measure, cut
Time after time, holding the razor firm against the straightedge, trying not to sliver the cut
When I mix the paste I’m careful to consider the kind of paper we are using as I add the water
The drill is strong but I brace it on my leg and the paste gives up its hold
It spreads smoothly now, across the wide paper, like a tidal wave that looses strength as it approaches the shore
Fold, flip, fold, start on the next one
The hall is so long that it seems like we are looking at it through a fish bowl, but I know we’ll be done by lunch
My father climbs the scaffold and puts out his left hand
I’m ready with the first sheet of paper
As he spreads it flat the sound of the broadknife shuffles and taps like a vaudeville show and he whistles along to make the performance work
When it’s flat and trimmed my father puts out his right hand
I’m ready with the sponge
“Not too wet, but not too dry either”
By lunchtime the hall is done and my muscles ask me again to sit down
This time it’s ok and I reward them with a cold can of coke
Somehow it tastes different on these days
Cold and smooth, more like milk than soda
When the day is over we load the truck again
On the way home my father whistles another song as if the tap dance was still going on
I ask him if we will be going again tomorrow, but he says ‘no’,
tomorrow he has to prepare Sunday’s sermon.

My alarm sounds again

Sunday morning wouldn’t seem so early if Saturday night had not been so late
My father and I leave first to set things up
This morning we stop at Whataburger for breakfast
My father uses the five cent refill mug that used to be his father’s
They pour his coffee but I’m not sure he got the price on the mug
As we drive to the hotel my father is quiet, preparing his thoughts
The room we use is always dirty but my father doesn’t complain, he just whistles and sets up the chairs
My job is to carry the projector
I set it up and turn it on
The light bursts out and reveals the lingering dust in the air
I put on a slide to adjust the focus and the familiar smell of cooking plastic slowly spreads across the room
I turn the knob to make sure that everything is clear
Eternal words on plastic paper, carried in a milk crate
When the people arrive the music starts
Piano and voices dancing off of moveable walls
My father plays his trombone and energy fires into the room
Like turning on a master breaker and watching the house come alive
Later, my father preaches
His red bible open to the same page from the other day
He makes his appeal like a lawyer delivering his closing comments, knowing that the decisions of life and death hang on this truth
Some will listen, some will not, but he will never stop telling them
I am listening to him too
I know that what he is saying is true
I know his words are not reserved for this hotel room
They live inside him like a pacemaker, beating consistently, never allowing his heart to fail
These words will be my pacemaker too
I will play
I will work
I will preach
And I will whistle.
 

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  2 comments for “My Father

  1. February 11, 2012 at 4:47 am

    This is incredible. It was very surreal reading this and knowing the personality of your dad, and also learning more about him from your perspective growing up. I see more through the eyes of JJ when thinking of your father, but it was cool from your eyes in this the poem.

  2. Carol Parga
    February 4, 2015 at 4:41 am

    Beautiful reflection of life with your Dad and the good thing is there is more to come

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