, and Dad says, “Hellooo,” to us drawing his o’s out as long as his jowels which precede him more prominently this year than his offering of redder eyes, and fuller belly with cotton shirt tucked in. I still won’t look too long into his laser surgery eyes; listen too intently to his long wind-ups to long-winded questions for his greased and oiled college-educated children sitting across from him on the bed. His idle anger over higher education makes me hate the fact that I ever wished to marry him,–and his thick folded hands make me burn against him when he announces over eggs and cinnamon rolls in Perkins that this will be our last family vacation. I avert my gaze askance from his bloodshot eyes as Mom tears up, –I teach her soft shoulders and neck to say goodbye by patting her back like I’m burping a baby who has air to pass, but who might also very well spit up.
I’m the first born, so I pull chairs into circle formation.
I receive them: daughters, brothers, cousins, forgotten Aunts.
We gather around the punch bowl, chocolates wrapped in gold,
And the Texas sheet cake. Shiny gooey squares sitting on little red plates.
The strawberry slices on top look like hearts, or not,
But we support their 50 bitter and sweet years of marriage.
I pose them, because they never had the chance.
Hand-in-hand, in front of these witnesses
Mom cries through her repeat-after-me vows.
And when the officiant asks what 1 + 1 is
My Dad says “one” just as clear as day.
It’s finally adding up to be something absolute.
It’s the one mom still knows–
because Alzheimer’s can’t steal it.
She starts &finishes with gusto–
same cadence, same inflection,
same certain laugh. Every time.
About a minute or two after the punch
line, she loops back around with,
“You know our story, don’t you?”
Daddy didn’t like him. Thought
he’d amount to nothing. Mom went
&told the justice of the peace not
to marry us before we came walking in,
but that justice said he couldn’t
legally stop anyone from marrying
if they were of age, and we were,
and that made daddy hotter than hell
Comes knocking on my apartment door
telling your dad there are four ways
out of this town– take any one of them.
But plenty of times I didn’t listen.
How I convinced your Dad was something else.
He got clear out to Colorado before he
turned around, wondering how I dug my claws
into him– “You know that one, don’t you?”
Lordy, Lordy, I git to talk in another language
and my children git to listen. Ev’ry time I pick
up the phone, I pick up that twang, as if I were
the one with a drawl. My kids say I git real “slow
and Southern,” even though Kansas ain’t nowhere
near Southern. She’s ’bout as middle of the road as
you can git. And she’s just as beautiful a place
you’d ever wanna see too– Abilene, Abilene,
purtiest town you’d ever seen. Ah, you’d think I’d
of been a preacher, the way I git to talking with
such a swell of love and tenderness in my throat.
Home’s kinda like that, I guess, sneaking out from
your insides without any coaxing at all. I sure hope
that when my folks quit calling, on account of them
being gone, there’s still a sweet swell in my throat.
Shawn, look at that thing hanging out of baby brother’s red slobbering lips; a cricket.
There’s the neighbor’s chickens running through Great Grandpa’s orchard again.
Shawn, let’s avoid concrete Mary’s tired broken arms and squish through the fence into the cemetery field to let the zombies scare the hell out of us.
There’s our mom, so pretty, winding her wet, black hair in prickly wire rollers spearing each one with a pink plastic pin.
Shawn, we have to wait for the police cars to roll out of our rural rock drive so we can break loose from mom and look under every stone and bush for the bank robber’s stolen cash, (moolah/stash)–if we find it we’ll be rich, rich, stinking rich!
There’s Grandma and Grandpa down in Texas away from siren locust screams.
Shawn, it’s hard to ride the big wheel on grass and rock-ways, so will you push if I pedal?
There’s no dog or cat barking or meowing.
Shawn, our knees are scraped and dad’s drinking cold beer outside on the screened-in porch.
There’s a TV on and Archie and Edith Bunker are sitting at the piano singing, “Those Were The Days!!”