Portrait of My Father
Face forever dull scarlet, puckered when he snuffled
Up the last packed flakes of Erinmore
From one of his half-bent’s and gave it out as acrid
Comment on our clothes, my comics, Saint Michael’s
Shoddy footwork on the pitch.
There was a pineapple on the tobacco tin; according to him Virginia
Was full of them, and drunk Indians.
At eight I kept ship’s nails, odd stamps, two perfect ambered bees
In one; by twelve pinched coins against the day
I could train away from that ancient nobody. Then
Cancer. April. Or May. The parlor swooned. By June
His raw lips were a flea circus. Morphine, and soon that jutting
Lawless chin and half his jaw lopped off — a map
Of olde Eire jammed on his shoulders I’d trace with curious fingers
From Kinsale to Letterkenney
As he dozed chair-bound halfway into Benny Hill. October
In memory means standing straight as line poles
At his casket against the garlic-gales
Of Monseigneur’s Castelli’s Lord’s Prayer, our threadbare
Sunday bests smelling of his forsaken Erinmore. The rest
Half-forgotten. Photographs interred in plastic jackets.
Christmas, wistful. Snowflakes. School, our silent friends.
Birthday masses with old women in black dresses, Ma chirping
He’s with the angels, et cetera, we were Irish.
This morning, leather-gloved against blisters and armed
With my aunt’s grand new Flexrake Basket LRB 140 —
An impromptu visit to their old house-keeper Florene’s
rusting double wide
To pick lychee nuts, which I’ve never tasted
But my uncle Bob assures me I will love
Shaved into coconut pudding and topped with something
He calls his Lychee Love Sauce.
She’s not home, of course, Florene: colon cancer. Two years ago
Now. A long haul, her black-haired widower concedes, polite but
Staring straight ahead over the dashboard, waving us on
As he backs the pick-up down the cracked asphalt drive.
It’s hard. Harder than I would have thought.
Twenty minutes maybe half an hour of swatting no-see-ums,
Twisting our doughy necks and arms into soft pretzels,
Working the spring-loaded jaws so they claw
The stems without breaking the rind and then suddenly rain
That pulls us toward the carport: smokes, Cokes in a cooler
Where we’d left them,
Tired chit-chat between rolls of thunder as we lament
The sorry state of Florene’s garden, until turning back we spot
A dazed-looking figure on the neighbor’s lawn.
Sylvie, Clara summarizes — grand-niece, sixteen, drugs — as we watch her
Watch us, unseeing, cheeks smeared with mud,
Slow-dancing to la musique inouïe,
Fiddling with a garter snake, making a bracelet, a necklace.
She’s beautiful, wearing nothing but a man’s swimming trunks.
And shall I speak now, Reader, of the rain that never ended,
Our rolled shoulder dash through it
To the car as we left her to her reveries, Florene’s double wide
Receding through the fogged-over rear window
As we bumped back down the gravel road,
The tart almost candy-like scent of what lychees we’d gathered
Squirming out through the twig holes punched in the single Winn Dixie bag
We’d managed to fill,
The darkness of the kitchen as we spilled them on the counter
Where Bob stood with his Oxy peeler, the slow brush of his forearm
As he swept the rough pink-red of their hides
Into the sink to expose balls of translucent flesh?
How we waited as he ground them with fresh coconut flakes
And poured a steady stream of heavy cream and egg yolks
Into a bowl, how we spooned that still-warm pudding up with plastic forks
From Hardees, the rain finally diminishing to plump drops plopping
From the gutter?
Or are you still thinking about that half-dressed dancing girl
With her scorched toddler-mind, how childishly beautiful she was
Making jewelry out of a snake,
The aroma of her pale breasts and the illicit thought
Of kissing them, taking them topped with Lychee Love Sauce
Into your mouth?
Daniel Lawless’s book, The Gun My Sister Killed Herself With and Other Poems is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry, February 2018. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Review, Cortland Review, B O D Y, The Common, FIELD, Fulcrum, The Louisville Review, Manhattan Review, Numero Cinq, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. He is the founder and editor of Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry.