by Alexander Duringer
for most of my childhood. His clothes smelled
of chicken grease. His pockets jangled with change
he’d count out on busted, peeled-paint plank porches
where Christmas lights drooped into May
down streets netted through the Old First Ward.
My bowl-cut smile earned a few extra tips
on ride-alongs. The city’s empty
grain elevators corroded in the sun as we drove
along Lake Erie. His left arm dangled from
the driver’s window & browned deeper
than the rust. To put me to sleep
after Vanna White waved goodnight
he played Barber’s adagio for strings
& narrated a story of three men
who climbed Mt. Denali within a bone
white storm. The snow put its pillow
over the Northern Lights’ green face
as the men’s prayers to St. Jude
were lost, lost. He gave me
his high cholesterol & almond eyes.
He gave me the Lisa Frank art kit I found
in the crafts section of Wal-Mart.
A case of pastels adorned with a rainbow
pegasus I used to draw school crushes
with 12-pack abs on sheets of 8 x 11.
Practiced the art of love on their bright
mouths. I’d stash them in the crack
between my bed & the wall. At dinner
he’d tell tall tales over my mother’s Betty
Crocker casseroles about the day’s customers:
a guy on Eggert with more kids than fingers
& he had eleven fingers. A woman who made
a pilgrimage to the Yukon for a shot
of Caribou Crossing & a donated toe.
They call the cops if you swallow,
he said, and I guess she tried. He heard
the knife’s dirt wind before it tore the sleeve
of his Bills sweatshirt. Eight times it landed
to empty him like a strung-up pig head.
His blood painted the night & the moon
kept its light off. I found polaroids
taken by my mother when I emptied
her underwear drawer. His belly.
His back. Each pinned like a map
for my finger to trace along the thief’s
route that led to the double pepperoni & $37
in my father’s wallet. But he didn’t
get the cash, dad said over a Budweiser’s
snap. He pushed the man’s face
into a streetlamp & drove himself
to Buffalo General. The same hospital
where he’d refused to cut the umbilical
cord linking my mother and I.
He asked the doctor, What the hell
do I pay you for?