23

Look around
This is where the adventure happens
where I gather the ragged and beautiful pieces of myself
and they fit and are assembled
all separate and one
whole individually
epic collectively

the silence here is unafraid of a cry
ready for awkward and painful and cruel
poised for the blow that is change
while smiling into the mist of right now

dad, I know how to do this
I know how to pattern 
and mimic 
I know how to sing with you
and dance with you
and play clapping games
My daughter taught me and I can teach you

put your hand like this and follow what I do

'I feel silly' he says, hands at his sides

You feel silly? 
I'm talking with a dead man
Shush and give me your hand

'I'm afraid' he says, hands shaking
of course you are
we all are
I've got you

prying eyes from the ground he looks
'you made all this?' he asks, hand raised a breath from mine
yes, I made all this
now do what I do

hands move together
mirroring
dancing
watching
and a weight lifts
and the mist rises
and I hear the buzz of summer
and I feel his eyes on me
and I smell wood fire 
and I never thought I would be here

22

in the circle I tell him the story
the long drive to West Virginia
the childhood home of carnival glass
how they circled the grave
these relations in thin suits and Sunday hats
as I approached the crowd parted
silence

then the whisper began
'Doug's daughter'
a rolling message
'that's Doug's daughter'
harmonious in their merging
'she looks just like him'
voices filled my head
'daughter'
a rolling wave of celebrity
'oh my'
and attention
'that's Doug's daughter'
and discomfort

I feel the moment at the grave
the crush of their gaze and whisper
snapping some vital connection in me
and I was gone 
somewhere fuzzy and cottony
somewhere with no hard edges
no soft sounds
no more memory

"It was to keep me safe" I say
"Safe from what?" dad asks
I watch him from the corner of my eye
he watches the ground at his feet
does he really want to know?
Sighing
"I was something much more and much less than sad."
He doesn't understand
"I don't understand"
"I know ... just sit with me."

and we sit
and we smell the wood fire
and I don't know how to begin

21

a very small me rides a very pink bike
banana seated and plastic basketed 
Easter candy loot in her periphery she smiles
sunshine on her face
warmth and safety and freedom and spring and hope and delight
and Reese's eggs
My littlest Heather

and there are so many more
Heather who sat alone during the vicious rejection of junior high
Heather who discovered how complicated rape can be
Heather who went away to college and learned the beauty of Dickens
Heather who survived an asphyxiation
Heather who forgot her own face
and Heather who remembered

and there are so many more
every step I become someone new
every moment I am recreated and renegotiated

today we sit together
and we heal
my band of challenging women 
baking bread and showing their teeth 
fearsome little girls
riding bikes and wielding sling shots
"I am Legion, for we are many"

today we discuss
could he sit with us?
my very young father

today we ask
will we open our circle to him?
a Mowgli in our wolf pack

today we wonder
can we teach him to sing in harmony?
to sleep in a mound of each other's warmth and care

I don't believe the dead can learn from us

but a newer Heather, whose questions don't tip up at the end, asks
can we teach him to survive?
and what will we learn in the teaching?
and isn't this audacity what makes us strong?

20

 

'whatever is cheapest' 
menu of services folded
(an actual menu)
rustling silence
sharp suited salesman looks for disagreement
searching faces that don't move
watching his commission trickle away
under my unwavering proclamation
no one intervenes

sixteen
ordering my father's funeral
no one speaks for me
or with me

my dad's belongings
lighter
cigarettes
wallet

'don't look in there little miss, 
he had some photos you might not want to see'
I look
giant breasted blonde sucking a finger legs spread
seductive brunette green tank leaning over a table
me smiling blue polo shirt short haired so small

two rings
one winged skull I slip onto my thumb
heavy and solid and present
the other a wedding band
'was he wearing this?'
'yes'
he never remarried
and he died wearing this white gold band
that matched my mother's ...

I sold them both.

Dancing with regret and righteousness 
I know I have been monstrous
too swollen and malformed for my own head
too unruly and inhuman to possess space
too broken and weak to have a right
but nevertheless
some cruel twist of existence
I do

'whatever is cheapest' I declare
over
and over
and over
and over
and somehow, in the end, it is me

 

19

then he was dead
alone
face down
blood pooling under his skin
"acute and chronic alcoholism"
thirty-nine

I buy a pizza
boyfriend asks 'are you ok?'
I ask 'pepperoni and sausage?'

still and empty
a dull void
monstrously inappropriate
beautifully contained

lifting the lid on that night
I feel the heat such pressure produces
I feel the slippery untangling
I hold my own small hand
I breathe deeply of the complexity
it smells of sweet spicy chai
and the sex of olives
and sharp decay

the smell of old life unlived

18

a sudden reprieve
wellness and shiny possibility
a new start

sober and healing in some small way
released from the VA hospital
blackbird flies
he zooms to me
old trans am
Steve Miller cassette
birthday wishes
sweet sixteen

case of beer
driving under the influence
driving without a license
assaulting an officer
jail then
ten long minutes from my home

I don't visit

I could not forgive
I would never hope again
I was gifted a poetic failure
happy birthday
a movie moment waiting for him to arrive
a cinematic phone call
accepting charges I heard
as he cried his apologies into the surprise of unsurprised ears
as he blamed the cops 
and the beer 
and the car

I'd never seen such tragedy up close before

It is grittier and more potent than the cinema would have you believe
in the movies there's an easy pressure as our heroine is consumed
a navigable slope
sliding flawlessly into the final heartbreak

on this day there were teeth
I heard the tearing
but then darkness and it was done

17

gone rogue
ill
swollen
yellowed
dying
disappeared
abandoned

dirty hospitals in strange towns
letters trickling from the tap
a keg of your need
your want
fingerprinted 
the dirty hands of bureaucracy

blue and white plastic rosaries
paint by number ducks
red sobriety tokens
again
again
again
the 24 hour chip 
dozens of them

'it will kill me' you wrote
and yet you drank

and sometimes I felt a hollow pain
and sometimes I felt a heaviness 
a pull in my guts
mostly 
I just didn't want to have a sick father or 
a sad father or 
a drunk father or 
a missing father

I wanted a boyfriend and a car
I longed for easy A's and less chores
I burned for 'adventure in the great wide somewhere'

I didn't want plastic rosaries
or ducks
or chips
or complexity

Bitterly, I didn't want you