Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Father’s Love Letters

On Fridays he’d open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
and ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, and sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams’ “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”
Never made the swelling go down.

His carpenter’s apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side and extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.

We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters and pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences …
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
and held them over a gas burner.

My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
and say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses and hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed and fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

Yusef Komunyakaa

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