Image of shelter


Imagining Your Father

"My father, we found out a few years ago, had all these -- relationships."

            I picture him
picking up the discreet message left with his secretary,
stopping at a gas-station phone booth to call the woman back.
            I picture him paying with cash,

            throwing out
any receipt, any matchbook or embossed napkin, that -- forgotten
in the pocket of an overcoat, or under the passenger seat --
            could give him away.

            What was he thinking
when he came home afterwards, smiling gently, and kissed your mother
on the cheek? Was he wondering whether another woman's scent
            lingered on his skin?

            Did he not --
in the shower, say, or while he was driving to work -- parse
every statement your mother made, looking for hints that
            she suspected?

            I picture him flawlessly
falsifying the dinner-table account of his day, hiding the sweaty
breathless hour spent on a frilly bedspread, or that evening's visit
            to a motel by the interstate.

            Was he "Going bowling"?
Did he invent scores? Partners? A whole team of fictive bowlers,
with names and handicaps and quirks and family traumas -- all to lend

            Lying is an art
like any other, only more intricate. And once he had started,
it would have been hard to conceive of stopping. How many hours
            did he spend planning calls,

            visits, alibis?
In the odd moments of an ordinary, suburban day -- brushing his teeth,
reading memos -- was he scheming himself another life, more exciting
            than anyone knew?

            Was the deception
itself as seductive, as irresistible, as the women who were ostensibly
its object? I picture him tensing whenever the phone rang at home,
            always fearing --

            but also always
thrilled by -- the possibility that right then one of his lovers was
telling your mother everything, even as he strained to overhear
            from the next room.

            Do you suppose
he ever thought of you, at 15 or 16, while he was waiting in some motel,
lying fully clothed on the bed in the dim light from the sign outside,
            above the parking lot?

            I picture him
with ankles crossed, hands behind head, watching the window
for her shadow, eager to see the only person with whom he could share
            his secret life --

            the life that,
whether he realized it or not, was also the source of his loneliness.
Did he ask himself what you would think if you knew? Did he wonder
            how old you would be

            before you understood?
I picture him thinking in the dark -- in the car coming home
from wherever he's been, in bed as your mother sleeps peacefully
            beside him.

            He is thinking
about all the women, about your mother, about you and your sister,
about who might know what, and who might suspect. About
            how he came to be

            the keeper
of so many secrets, and about whom they could hurt, and about
how much he needed them anyway, these secrets that sustained him,
            and cut him off from everyone.

December, 1999

Poems page | The Biemiller Ice and Coal Co.