I once shot a mockingbird,
put a BB clear through his neck,
and a fabulous feathered flying angel became a turd,
crapped out by a sad tree.
Every blood-choked breath slowed to the rhythm of a tin lid
unevenly dropped on a table,
his mouth gasped for air,
his black eyes rolled towards me, fixed on me, his unwitting assassin,
I didn't mean to do it, but he died anyway.
My father's death was like that,
I mean, I didn't shoot him out of a tree,
but God knows, the thought had pierced my brain,
and somehow his slaving for 34 years,
popping thousands of No Doz,
getting by on half the sleep a normal human being needs,
killed him, for my sake.
He was lying on the crisped red-white-blue striped sheets I'd slept in for 19 years,
in the living room of my youth,
where I'd seen him ten thousand times,
shoving chicken in his hole, watching Lawrence Welk, football, basketball,
transfixed on a show that just might show a nipple--no wait, it's a mole.
There was no recliner with remote control close at hand,
but a hospital bed and a bed pan, and everyone who thought he mattered,
but I only cared about me.
Now his mouth, gasping like that mockingbird,
unable to find air, God Himself sitting on his chest,
his eyes opened and rolling, rolling, then fixed on my face asking, "Why?"
I watched thinking,”You were the one who protected me,
held my hand, told me about life's evils, pitfalls, shit-asses, fools, then
turned on your game when I asked for clarity,
and you're asking me?”
You spoke, I listened, I spoke, you interrupted,
you corrected, you punned, you were the teacher,
I was the dumb student.
Sharing ideas was something two equals did,
not a father and a son.
Once you lost track of who I was,
your words fell like rain on my windshield.
And now you want a secret of life?
We may both know in a few days Daddy--
we both need to pay attention.
I'd never touched Daddy before,
not like that, not in that way.
No, his hands were for working, not holding,
and he'd come home every day too tired, too stressed, too short on patience,
too wrapped in his mission of loving me through works,
to love me through a relationship.
And now I squeezed his instrument of toil,
held it like I wanted to walk him across the street to get ice cream,
keep him from strangers, bad candy, Protestants.
But he died anyway,
like a child torn from its mother by a shark and thrashed to death in front of her,
until there was nothing but a bloody pulp and a teddy bear.
Mommy said,"Goodbye Daddy", at 3:16am, June 13, 1996,
Father John closed his eyes for him,
and life as I knew it was slowly shredded in a savage hacking of my heart.
The sun rose and his chest didn't,
his eyes no longer rolled, his hands and arms, so intentional in their beauty,
and his plume of black hair no longer crippled by Brylcreem,
was lush as a lawn of opal, spritzed in stars on dead earth.
He was a work of art, my Daddy,
the scene I always missed until I framed it and fell asleep looking at it.
The sun is still rising--
maybe it hasn't heard yet, but Daddy just died, even though I was holding his hand,
and if I'd held a little tighter, I could have gone with him.
Now I have to make sure the grass gets cut, screws are turned, nails pounded,
bad men have a brave boy in their face for Mom, and from now on, be the man.
But I'll never touch her like you did, like you touched me with a callused hand,
stern voice, hard face, protecting a soft, scared heart,
whose bravery can only be measure by how much it feared life.
I can only help her across the street.