Our Father

A year or two, mornings before school,
our father came into our rooms with pliers. 
My sisters and I crammed into Jordache
casings, Gloria Vanderbilts. We’d jump
into jeans, tug them up our ashy thighs, abrade
young skin with denim seams. Taut denimed butts
on polyester Holly Hobby bedspreads, until they
were painted on, until our arms ached, our fingers
hurt, until we were panting, exhausted, our smooth
foreheads beaded with sweat. Near tears as usual,
calling for help. After the first time, when he laughed
but then couldn’t grip the brass zipper, so ha ha dad
the joke’s on you, he kept pliers handy, grabbed
the pull tab, tugged it up the teeth so we
could button our own damn pants. What we think
we want. What we know. What do we know
when we ask for what we think we want? We pray
for ridiculous things, we humans. And so often are indulged.

Copyright © 2018 by Jill McDonough. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Humans want dumb stuff. It’s kind of sweet, once you can see it. This is a poem about remembering a dumb thing that was important to me once, something so basic it didn’t occur to me that it was important or dumb—it was just what I did. It was completely normal and totally insane, all at once. I assume there are lots of dumb things I am doing now that I also don’t question. Probably we all are. Maybe one day we’ll be able to look back and see them. But by then won’t we be doing new dumb stuff?”
—Jill McDonough