Finishing Line Press (chapbook), 2005
HERE IS MY FATHER
at 25, in his sergeant’s stripes, smiling at the camera with my mother.
They’re back from their honeymoon in Colorado Springs.
Cottonwood fuzz swirls around them like confetti.
at 40, at his punch press in the garage. I’m handing him a brown
envelope from Washington containing Dad’s patent for
the “Worley Collapsible Redwood Tomato Stake.”
at 7, wearing knickers, his ears propping up a tam-o’-shanter.
Snowball, a white blur, sits on his lap. Eight years later
he will back over her in the gravel driveway.
at 50, back in the kitchen after excusing himself from his birthday
party. He’s wearing full Indian headdress; he’s painted his
face red. He stands in silence and won’t explain.
at 35, coming through the front door with a stack of order forms
from his western Kansas circuit. He’s just sold $3000 worth
of steel in one week. We all dine out at McDonald’s.
at 65, Las Vegas, behind a small pyramid of blue and red chip at
the Golden Nugget. He slowly turns over the fourth 9 to beat
some loud Oklahoman’s full boat. I am so happy, I whoop.
at 23, lying in the pink snow. A blond SS soldier points a rifle
at his head as blood seeps from Dad’s knee and ankle.
The moon, bone white, drifts through black branches.
at 76, in the Tucson Care Facility. The night nurse finds him, naked
and trembling, standing by the bedside of a Mrs Wolcott.
He thinks she is his mother.
at 33, in the Wesley Hospital elevator, his face backlit with joy. He
tells me I have another baby brother, named Steven.
I follow his limp to the Maternity Ward.
at 71, guiding his ‘59 Cadillac onto a ramp marked DO NOT ENTER.
“Pull over,” I say. “Now.” “OK,” he says.
“You drive the rest of the way.”
THE LAST TIME I SAW MY FATHER
I never realized
his legs were so white,
veined marble stretched
on the nursing home bed,
the toes on his left foot
gnarled and twisted
as earthbound roots.
Our company commander said since I was the shortest,
I would “scout” the hedgerows. So I went down the rows with my full field pack, gas mask and M1 rifle.
15 minutes down the rows, a German soldier fired at me.
I shot back and he went down.
The gown they’d put him in
was riding up near
the large elastic diaper.
Dad, I said, but he was lost
in sleep, a tree fallen
in a deep forest.
It was in the Saar Basin, at daylight, when all hell broke loose. Red flares. Trees bursting into flame and men down all around me.
Then a nurse stopped in
to wake him, to give him
his sleeping pills.
She nudged, prodded, then yelled
into his good ear. He’s really out,
she said, but I have to make him
take these, it’s my job.
I asked what the German medics were going to do but got no response. Were they going to cut off my leg? Both legs? Four of them held me down and put me out with a stink rag.
Dad rallied awake.
He blinked and glanced
around the room. Peggy,
he said, calling the nurse
by my mother’s name,
then he looked at me.
I had developed infection in both legs (osteomyelitis), one leg being worse than the other. I was carried outside on a stretcher and sprayed with DDT.
Doc, he said, losing my name
again, what are you going to do with me?
I nodded at the nurse’s hand,
at the tiny seeds of sleep.
She moved above him in the dim room.
Dad opened his mouth
I may have killed a man. I don’t know. What did he think, his last seconds on earth?
and let the pills rest on his tongue.
Then he took a deep breath,
heroically, and swallowed.
[The offset passages are from Don’t Fence Me In, a journal
kept by Sgt. Robert W. Worley]