Kissing My Father

Joseph O. Legaspi
Three days into his wake my father has not risen.

He remains encased in pine, hollowed-
out, his body unsealed, organs 
harvested, then zippered 
shut like a purse. 

How strange to see one’s face inside 
a coffin. The son at my most peaceful. 
The father at his most peaceful.  
Not even the loud chorus 
of wailing family members 
can rid us of our sleep.  

My mother sits front center.  
Regal in black, her eyes sharpened 
as Cleopatra’s. Her children, grown 
and groaning, quietly moan beside a white 
copse of trumpeting flowers.  

The church is forested 
with immigrants, spent after their long journey 
to another country 
to die. 

Before the casket 
is to be closed, we all rise 
to bid our final farewells.

My mother lowers herself, 
kisses the trinity of the forehead 
and cheeks, then motions her obedient 
children to follow. One by one my 
siblings hover, perch, and peck. 

I stand over my father 
as I had done on occasions 
of safe approach: in his sleep, or splayed 
like a crushed toad on the floor, drunk.

I study him, planetary, 
distant presence both bodily 
and otherworldly, a deceptive 
kind of knowledge.
His beauty has waned 
but not faded, face surface 
of a moon, not ours, I turn pale,
shivering, I place my hand 
on his, amphibious.  

While my mother places her hand warm on the cradle
of my back, where I bend to fit into my body.

Her burning eyes speak, Do it for me, they
urge, Kiss your father goodbye.  

I refuse.

More by Joseph O. Legaspi

Whom You Love

             "Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are." – Creole Proverb


The man whose throat blossoms with spicy chocolates
Tempers my ways of flurrying
Is my inner recesses surfacing
Paints the bedroom blue because he wants to carry me to the skies
Pear eater in the orchard
Possesses Whitmanesque urge & urgency
Boo Bear, the room turns orchestral
Crooked grin of ice cream persuasion
When I speak he bursts into seeds & religion
Poetry housed in a harmonica
Line dances with his awkward flair
Rare steaks, onion rings, Maker’s on the rocks
Once-a-boy pilfering grenadine
Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska
Wicked at the door of happiness
At a longed-for distance remains sharply crystalline
Fragments, but by day’s end assembled into joint narrative
Does not make me who I am, entirely
Heart like a fig, sliced
Peonies in a clear round vase, singing
A wisp, a gasp, sonorous stutter
Tuning fork deep in my belly, which is also a bell
Evening where there is no church but fire
Sparks, particles, chrysalis into memory
Moth, pod of enormous pleasure, fluttering about on a train
He knows I don’t need saving & rescues me anyhow
Our often-misunderstood kind of love is dangerous
Darling, fill my cup; the bird has come to roost

Amphibians

Amphibians live in both.

Immigrants leave their land,
hardening in the sea.

Out of water.

In Greek, amphibian means
“on both sides of life.”

Terra and aqua.  Shoreline.
In fresh water:

amphibians lay
shell-less eggs;
immigrants give birth
to Americans.

Tadpoles, polliwogs
metamorphose: gills
in early stages.  On land,

amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.

Through damp skin
amphibians oxygenate.

Immigrants toil
and sleep breathlessly.

Skin forms glands. 
Eyes form eyelids.

Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.

Their colors brighten, camouflage.

They’ve been known to fall
out of the sky.

Fully at home in the rain.

The Red Sweater

slides down into my body, soft
lambs wool, what everybody
in school is wearing, and for me
to have it my mother worked twenty
hours at the fast-food joint.
The sweater fits like a lover,
sleeves snug, thin on the waist.
As I run my fingers through the knit,
I see my mother over the hot oil in the fryers
dipping a strainer full of stringed potatoes.
In a twenty hour period my mother waits
on hundreds of customers: she pushes
each order under ninety seconds, slaps
the refried beans she mashed during prep time,
the lull before rush hours, onto steamed tortillas,
the room's pressing heat melting her make-up.
Every clean strand of weave becomes a question.
How many burritos can one make in a continuous day?
How many pounds of onions, lettuce and tomatoes
pass through the slicer? How do her wrists
sustain the scraping, lifting and flipping
of meat patties?           And twenty

hours are merely links
in the chain of days startlingly similar,
that begin in the blue morning with my mother
putting on her polyester uniform, which,
even when it's newly-washed, smells
of mashed beans and cooked ground beef.

Related Poems

Portrait of My Father as a Pianist

Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped convict, he climbs
wild-eyed, one hand out—
           running its twin on the rails

of a broken Steinway. Who
           has not been found guilty
of a carrion cry—the dream

           of a feathered departure
one has not earned, then fall
           back down teeming fault lines

of the flesh? Memory recedes
           into nocturne, a kingdom born
of spruce and fading light—

           he reaches in the end what
he had to begin with: fingertips
           on corrupted tissue, cathedral

of octaves in his thinning
           breath, tears like small stubborn
gods refusing to fall.