At a lakehouse in Brownsville owned
by my father’s company. It had a bow-limbed tree
we climbed easily. A gravel driveway
ground like bones beneath our soles.
And bunkbeds where we fought for the top.
Where my sister in the upper bunk stuck
a tape recorder out the window
into the branches during a lightning storm.
Next day she played it back and swore
there were angry voices whispering
in the tinny wind, made us listen
over and again until convinced. Angry
in that way a whisper can be louder
than a shout. The way mothers threaten
with their teeth set
together. We sat on the floor for hours
trying to decipher what they say.
He’s had too much to drink again my sister whispers, while he staggers
to the kitchen, staring
at the oven timer like an infant
discovering sight, steadying a hand
against its blinking light. My sister
is too young, she shouldn’t understand
such limits, shouldn’t speak of it
in a voice already losing
its silver, shouldn’t whisper
at me as if I’m a conspirator. Later
in the night the timer goes off
like a bad weather alert
or air raid siren detecting danger.
I get up to make it stop, expecting
to discover warmth, a towel on a burner,
forgotten chicken blackened in foil.
But there’s nothing. Just an angry rasp
in an airless kitchen with a dark
and empty heart.
I am one year closer to death.
On my birthday my father tells me this,
as we connect the pieces of track
to a super-raceway set, as we click together
each smooth strip to form a figure eight
that swirls across the kitchen floor.
He helps me guide the matchbox racer
through its twisting over linoleum,
its geometric mess some murky hell
into which we might flip. We study
for hours the speeding and slowing,
the skid and the spin, the restless gambling
with God. My father is like a god,
his grip on the joystick leaning in
to the inevitable, the slick swish past
the previously traveled, the one-more mile,
the one-last second. My father and I,
motoring one year closer to death.
One summer I walked with a limp
because I wanted to be a cripple,
wanted a flaw to mar the appearance
of perfection we created on vacation,
charging from diversion
to diversion. All I saw
were the backs of their heads,
my mother and her frosted hair,
my father’s white socks
and the tubby ass of my sister
in her terrycloth rainbow romper
always smelling of crotch and hairspray
when she tossed it off at night
into a corner of the Hotel 6
where the silence followed us to Florida
from our home, the home
we never left behind, the home
that trailed us through Adventure Island
and the Congo River Ride.
That was the summer I wished
for cancer, for a tumor that couldn’t be
removed, a mass so thick and palpable
the damage could not be denied, forcing
an amputation, its replacement so false
and hollow my faulty body would thunder
through botanical garden trails, and shatter
the leafy chatter of our family’s last resort.