Waiting to eat
Before Thanksgiving turkey and stuffed cabbage,
Challah and rice pudding,
Yams, and peas with pearl onions,
Listening in New Brunswick to Uncle Julius’ cackles—
Rising like an angry cat above voices in the kitchen—
Clash with Doris the maid’s heavy white shoes in the hallway
And the coughing and laughing of older cousins
The clacks and bumps of the bumper pool game
Somewhere down below,
Cousin Melanie and I are expected to nap
Under Auntie Gertie’s smothering blankets
With the bedroom ceiling’s afternoon sun
Tic-tac-toe-ing through Venetian blinds.
Melanie, a pillow over her head,
Curls her knees, in the swell of the bed,
Her back to mine, beneath the feathery comforter,
Pulls her pajamas down below her thighs,
Settles, nestles against me,
Breathes in, breathes out,
and so we wait.
Two-thirds of the way through the rehearsal schedule,
I found my father. He was on the stage, seated in a downstage chair.
It was so unlike him, not to have his feet up, or otherwise
To have his back bent over a garden spade or a vise grip.
In a bathrobe, his knees were thin, his bare arms draped
In a curl over the arms of the chair, his fingers gripping,
Not the massive calloused claws of power I remembered
So well, from, well, forever. He sat ever sweetly,
His breath even and his eyes seeing everything in front of him.
I had never realized that he too was an actor, but here he was,
Being someone he was not, a fantastic transformation,
And most remarkable, so still, so available,
Helping me to develop my character, to prepare my moment
If you had a crystal ball and could see deep-
Ly through the white light just before you
Died there it would be—your true life, stories
You hadn’t realized you’d sold, children
You didn’t know were happy, a mother who
Could really sing, a playful father with
Calm eyes, you were fluent in eastern
Languages, your form on the dance floor
Graceful and full of power, you were power-
Ful and had no needs, weren’t mindful, only
Smiles and breaths and hands that held
And aches that reminded you only that
You’d lived well.
Gary Maggio is out there somewhere, writing.