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
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
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?
'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
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
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
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