FATHER: FIVE FRAGMENTS
I make a run for it, try to crawl into a sewer mouth;
Daddy grabs my hand; I try pulling free,
my other hand still clutching the darkness.
I’ll teach you, he bellows from the sun.
He teaches me with his belt's buckle end. That night,
I lie awake, listening to the conjugal screams.
After the divorce he talks me into visiting him
and his new wife. She cooks a shitty-looking stew; I puke.
She makes me clean it up. Daddy nibbles on her ear, toys
with her ferocious hair. She squeals; I can’t stop puking.
Later that night he says, “Okay, you big sissy,
I’ll take you back home to your mommy.”
I’m shooting baskets after school,
dreading to go home. Coach says, “Gotta lock up, kid.”
“A few more minutes, Coach?”
Coach says, “Look, I had an asshole for a stepdad too”;
he grabs the ball that I rammed through the hoop.
One day, he shows up in his new Dodge.
“Where’s the redneck?”
“Underneath his car.”
“Good place for him. You’ll be better off with me and Jen.”
He hands me a tin of watercolors, winks.
“Now you can paint like your dad. Your real dad,
not some backwoods hee-haw.”
We drive to the museum, admire Bacon butchered faces,
Bosch grotesques. That night, locked inside my room,
I paint my own grotesques.
Thirty years go by before I visit him again.
His den is cluttered with unfinished sculptures.
“Long time,” he says. “Why see me now?”
“Well, now that I’m as gray as you, I felt the need
to re-acquaint you with the son you never really wanted.”
His face goes dark.
“The daughter you once prayed for,
who lived for sixteen months—does she still haunt you?
Remember her screams when you changed her bandages?
I was there, lost beside your leg,
mute as the sutures on her abdomen.”
“That was another life ago . . .” he finally says.
“We could have been a family.”
He shakes his head. “We never should have met, your mom and I.”
I just stare at him.
“Do you ever pray, son?”
I nearly gag.
He nods at his statuette of Moses, cradling two blank tablets,
pious, even without eyes.
“When will you finish that?”
He raises palsied hands. “I can’t even drive.”
There’s something else he wants to say,
but he just shakes his head and walks away.
ARBUS IN EXTREMIS
A red light glows inside your soul’s dark room
but the moment you expose the blade
your Burlesque Lady invites you in.
“Ignore the dumb-blonde snapshots on the vanity,
honey; focus on the real me: Solomé
seducing death with every dying breath.”
The triplet sisters reappear; they enjoy
undoing their cookie-cutter likenesses:
one twists her face, one yawns, one shuts an eye,
while the other eye rolls inward where it’s safe.
“Please don’t leave us,” they plead.
“Our hearts would break in three.”
“Don’t forget about me!” The sword swallower
leaps from her tent. “Remember how lovemaking
used to be like this? Watch now, how I swallow
the steel shaft with ease. Circus music, please.”
The others soon arrive: Your true aristocrats, the midgets
in their Queens apartment, reaching out, like me,
to stay your hand;
the spasticboy, clutching a toy grenade,
ready to blow the world to hell;
the man in curlers, with splotchy rouge,
nursing his limp cigarette;
the eight-foot Jewish giant,
stooping above his parents’ dollhouse furniture:
They’re all calling out to you, Diane,
from your celluloid eternity;
And here I am, groping for your wrists,
but your resolution’s fixed,
your anguish molten, ready to be spilled;
your covenant with art: fulfilled.
The meteorologist says we are being hammered
by heavy rain: a fine metaphor. To me, though,
the rain sounds more like boulders rumbling into a ravine
a mile from where I lie entwined on bare ground
with my sweetheart: Geological upheaval paired
with flesh yields ravishing metaphors. Temblors rush
through the bloodstream—lava cauterizing the sea.
Gale force winds whiplash the Tampa Bay Bridge.
This is what gods do when they permeate our world.
How close to divine reality can metaphors take us?
A wildfire rages through the canyons of L.A.,
the moon mortifies itself in a bloody sheath—the same moon
that once extracted consciousness from the waves,
like metaphors of eternity, excised from a lover’s heart.
I show my papers to the officer at the checkpoint.
He examines them with a flashlight.
He wears goggles, like most people who spend time out of doors.
“These papers are invalid,” he says. “Step out of your vehicle.”
I am searched, cuffed, and taken before the Chief Inspector.
He wears a green suit and is sitting behind a table.
He looks me over, shifts his attention to my papers.
“Why didn’t you renew?”
I don’t answer. He stands up. “Take him to his cell,” he tells the guard.
The guard leads me downstairs to a cell.
I sit on the cot and place my head in my hands.
Hours pass. It’s stifling hot. Somehow, I manage to doze off.
Next morning I’m given a bowl of gruel; the smell nauseates me.
I push it away. Later, the guard brings me upstairs to a dark room.
The shade on the windows is pulled down.
I can see a faint smudge of light behind it.
There are two folding chairs in the middle of the room.
I sit. An hour goes by.
Then a man in a green robe enters.
“I am your Confessor,” he says in a metallic voice.
“Tell me what is troubling you,” he says.
“There’s nothing I care to say.”
“You cannot be issued new papers until you tell me what is troubling you.”
“My troubles are my own,” I reply.
“There’s no such thing; not anymore,” the Confessor says.
“What are you going to do with me?”
The Confessor stands before the shaded window.
I wait. He remains standing, hands behind his back.
Suddenly he faces me. “They called your wife.”
My stomach knots. “Why did they do that?”
“She was half asleep,” the Confessor says,
“She wanted to know if you made it through. Of course,
they told her the truth. Do you know what she said?”
I shake my head, even though I want to know.
The Confessor grins. “She said, ‘I still love him; I’m still willing
to bear his children, despite the danger, but . . . papers are papers.’”
Fred D. White's poems and fiction have appeared in The Brooklyner, Burningwood, The Cape Rock, Confrontation, Rattle, South Carolina Review, Visions and other journals. He lives near Sacramento, CA. This is his first appearance in Offcourse.